Edouard Manet was a French painter who depicted everyday scenes of people and city life. He was a leading artist in the transition from realism to impressionism. Born into a bourgeoisie household in Paris, France, in 1832, Edouard Manet was fascinated by painting at a young age. His parents disapproved of his interest, but he eventually went to art school and studied the old masters in Europe. Manet’s most famous works include “The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia.” Manet led the French transition from realism to impressionism. By the time of his death, in 1883, he was a respected revolutionary artist.
Impressionist painter Edouard Manet fell dramatically short in meeting his parents’ expectations. Born in Paris on January 23, 1832, he was the son of Auguste Manet, a high-ranking judge, and Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, the daughter of a diplomat and the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince. Affluent and well connected, the couple hoped their son would choose a respectable career, preferably law. Edouard refused. He wanted to create art.
Manet’s uncle, Edmond Fournier, supported his early interests and arranged frequent trips for him to the Louvre. His father, ever fearful that his family’s prestige would be tarnished, continued to present Manet with more “appropriate” options. In 1848, Manet boarded a Navy vessel headed for Brazil; his father hoped he might take to a seafaring life. Manet returned in 1849 and promptly failed his naval examinations. He repeatedly failed over the course of a decade, so his parents finally gave in and supported his dream of attending art school.
At age 18, Manet began studying under Thomas Couture, learning the basics of drawing and painting. For several years, Manet would steal away to the Louvre and sit for hours copying the works of the old masters. From 1853 to 1856, he traveled through Italy, Germany and Holland to take in the brilliance of several admired painters, notably Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya.
After six years as a student, Manet finally opened his own studio. His painting “The Absinthe Drinker” is a fine example of his early attempts at realism, the most popular style of that day. Despite his success with realism, Manet began to entertain a looser, more impressionistic style. Using broad brushstrokes, he chose as his subjects everyday people engaged in everyday tasks. His canvases were populated by singers, street people, gypsies and beggars. This unconventional focus combined with a mature knowledge of the old masters startled some and impressed others.