Édouard Manet, a French painter from 1832 to 1883, is best known for his connection to the impressionist painters and his rebellion against traditional salon painting techniques- although he always wanted his images shown in the salon, his ideas of what was proper for the salon to show was not usually agreed upon by the bourgeois patrons. His ideas bridged the gap between realism and impressionism as well as furthering modern ideals of social equality. He still wanted the construct of society to remain intact (for instance, the salon to still run) however he wanted to push society towards a new way of thinking about painting as a whole.
Manet began as a flaneur painter. A flaneur was someone gentlemanly who would walk around the city and interpret what he or she saw to the point of obsession- almost like a detective of everyday life. As a painter of this flaneur idea he was one of the first to paint new real life situations, like people walking in the rain or having an outdoor dinner party. These works have the stark dark light contrast popular at the time and exhibit his knowledge of classical painting techniques. Going from more traditional works in the Salon to being the father of impressionism may seem like a huge jump, however when considering flaneur painting, it is obvious that Manet spent enough time watching and learning societal norms as a flaneur painter that he wanted to branch out and change the long held ideas of what constitutes a ‘proper’ painting to be held in the Salon. The French Salon was the official art exhibit of art by France’s Art Academy (Académie des Beaux-Arts) in Paris and was held by the society of French Artists. After the French revolution it opened up to foreign artists as well and were juried by conservative and academic patrons.
Using his already prominent painting success he chose to challenge long held ideas of traditional works by taking classical paintings (often found in the Louvre) and updating them into a modern context. For instance, his work “luncheon on the grass” was originally not accepted to the salon because of its sketchy style and modern look at classical works.
Manet was taking respected works by Renaissance artists and updating them, a practice he also adopted in Olympia (Edward Manet::)
In his work Olympia he brings forward not only the issue of painting technique- shown in the Japanese woodblock print style in the woman’s figure, rather than the full bodied woman such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which he was mimicking- he also brings forward the idea of race. At the time, black people, especially women, were thought to be hyper-sexed individuals. That contrasts the black woman in this painting who is fully clothed and serving what appears to be a prostitute. This also brings forward the idea of gender because the woman in this painting is not appearing under the guise of a “goddess of love” or a dainty woman- which is how women were perceived at the time. This naked woman almost seems proud of herself as a prostitute and exudes an air of confidence by staring out at the viewer rather than lowering a gaze or looking complacent.
Having brought up such issues as race and feminism it almost stands to reason that the next issue brought would be individuality. If race and gender are not what makes up a person in society then in Manet’s works it must be the subjects own personality and individuality that is important. As an example, the woman in Manet’s Olympia is shown with her own confidence in herself- contrasting the blank stares of previous portraits where individuality is hardly distinguishable except by hair style and clothing- which shows a person’s social standing more than it shows the essence of the individual. With the development of the department store it became increasingly more important not to look like every other person who bought the same outfit or had the same hairdo. Rather than paint idealist “goddesses” Manet painted people with their own personalities and individuality to show “modern life” subjects, this also goes back to flaneur idea of looking at real life. Manet wanted to paint what he saw, not the traditional approved subject matter of classical times.
By bringing up such controversial ideas of Race and Feminism in his works, Manet also set the stage for society to bring class and social standing to the forefront. The people in previous portraits, as was stated, had little to distinguish themselves from other people except the clothing they wore and the hair on their heads. Manet’s idea of unique identity versus crowds of people along with mass production also goes back to flaneur- the idea where being anonymous in a crowd of many people becomes a good time to inspect one’s situation and those around you rather than feel lost. Manet pushed past this- not only by showing expression in the individual, but also be expanding the audience who could see his works. When his works were not allowed to show in the salon, rather than wait for the next salon show to be run he began work on his own gallery showing- one for more than just the bourgeois patrons of the salon.
This inspired quite a few other artists of the day- those calling themselves the impressionists. While Manet never considered himself an impressionist, it was his original counter-culture ideas of protesting societal hierarchy, race, and gender that gave way to the impressionist movement. It was his original ideas of not conforming to the Salon’s typical painting that allowed the impressionists to hold their own gallery outside of the Salon with paintings atypical of those classical beliefs. Although Manet enjoyed exhibiting in the Salon and never officially joined with the impressionists, it was his ideas outside of classical forms that gave way to impressionist works. It was also their ideas of lighter color and interest in light that inspired his later works. It should also be noted that while Manet and many of the impressionists brought up the idea of opposing society’s gender norms in their works, the women painters among the impressionists were still held to societal standards to some degree- in that their paintings were expected to only have “womanly” subject matter in them- no matter the style of painting.
Along with inspiring the impressionists with his counter-culture ideas he also inspired them with his style of painting. Rather than blending tonal variations he left them as solid colors to make up a form. This enticed impressionists to experiment further and look at light and color differently than the classic Salon paintings, inspiring the lighter colors in Manet’s work in turn. He was no longer painting the high contrast images of the past. He still used black or dark tones in his works to separate himself from the impressionist imagery of light solid colors, however. This also is where the impressionists name comes from, because the light solid colors look like an under painting or an impression before the actual completion of a stereotypical classic painting. The French Salon was incredibly harsh on the impressionist painters, opposing the movement away from traditional painting styles. In 1863 the works that had been rejected from the salon were held in the Salon des Refusés, of exhibition of rejects. Manet’s work was accepted into this exhibition, but he continued to try to get into the salon while the impressionists began exhibiting on their own separate from the salon and the Salon des Refusés. It is important to notice the difference between Manet and the impressionists because although they influenced one another Manet never considered himself a part of their group because he did not want to become representative of all of their ideals and he was somewhat in tune with maintaining the hierarchy. While he did oppose the rejection of all of the artwork in the Salon des Refusés he still wanted a sense of judgment- that his work got into the Salon the next year to show his political beliefs was his goal, not opposing the structure itself.
Édouard Manet was incredibly important to the art of the 19th century because his ideals allowed society to keep moving forward towards social equality and always be open to change in both technique and societal reform. While he was not as radical in his ideas of change as the impressionists that followed him (he still wanted to maintain some of the salon structure and social values of the society) it was his inspiration that allowed a transition between realist artwork and impressionist artwork.
"Edouard Manet:: Impressionism :: Allpaintings Art Portal." Edouard Manet:: Impressionism :: Allpaintings Art Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. Web Link Removed.
"Edouard Manet - The Complete Works." Edouard Manet - The Complete Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. http://www.manetedouard.org/
"Manet Edouard." Hecht Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. Web Link Removed
"Minneapolis Institute of Arts - The Collection." Minneapolis Institute of Arts - The Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. https://collections.artsmia.org/search/manet
"Paris Salons Catalogues." Research Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2013. http://nga.gov.au/Research/Salons.cfm
Stephen Eisenman, Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, 4th ed. (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2011)