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Manet, Edouard (1832-1883)
by Scholes, Robert


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Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883)

He was born in Paris, to Parents who were from the upper bourgoisie, his mother being the daughter of a diplomat and his father the Chief of Personnel at the Ministry of Justice. As a boy, his uncle took him to the museums and encouraged him to copy the masters. His father wanted him to study law, but they compromised on the French Naval Academy, where he did not do well. Finally, his father accepted that Edouard's vocation was for painting and allowed him to enter the studio of Thomas Couture, who specialized in portraits and historical painting. It did not take long for him to come into conflict with his teacher. During these years, his father encouraged him to travel, and he had a chance to look at paintings in the North and in Italy as a result. His final break with Couture came over the teacher's critical response to Manet's realistic painting of an absinthe drinker.

At about this time he made the acquaintance of the writers Baudelaire and Zola, the photographer Nadar, and the painters Fantin-Latour, Degas, Monet, and Pissaro. Exhibited in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés, his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) aroused the hostility of the critics and the enthusiasm of a group of young painters who developed impressionism. When one of his works was rejected by the "Universal Exposition" in 1867, Zola leaped to his defense with an article in L'Evenement, the paper that is now called Le Figaro. His other notable works include Olympia (1863), which generated enormous hostility at the time of its first showing, and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), which was received much more favorably--a sign that tastes were changing.

He is seen today as a major transitional figure between the realists and the post-impressionists, and his works are highly prized. He served in the military during the Franco-Prussian war and returned to painting after the war, which left the French defeated and Manet with a knee infected with the gangrene that was ultimatly fatal for him in 1883.

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