3. Impressionist Edouard Manet

(1) Origins and Influences (2) Early History (3) Impressionist Edouard Manet (4) Impressionist Claude Monet
(5) Impressionists Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne (6) Monet & Pissarro in London
(7) Impressionist Painting Developments (8) Impressionist Exhibitions (9) Group Splits (10) Legacy

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A Bar At The Folies-Bergere (1882)
Courtauld Gallery, London.
By Edouart Manet.
Manet was a major influence on the
development of Impressionism,
although he never exhibited at an
Impressionist Show. For more, see:
Characteristics of Impressionist

Impressionist Manet: "Father of Modernism"

His Maltreatment by the Salon

"That would be the painter, the real painter," wrote Baudelaire, "who could
make us see and understand how grand we are in our cravats and our polished boots." It is thus, and even in a tall hat, that he is represented in Manet's first great composition, "Music in the Tuileries Gardens," painted in 1860-1 and exhibited in the spring of 1863 at the Martinet Gallery: a great composition despite its medium-sized dimensions (30 x 47 in.), and of exceptional density since it groups more than fifty people. With a little care one may recognise a number of friends and Parisian figures of the day, seated, standing or leaning over. One is particularly struck, despite the freedom of treatment, by the vertical figures pressed one against the other, by the animated distribution of tall-shaped hats grouped around broad-blooming corollas of sun bonnets, coiffures and feminine clothes painted in large light-coloured flat tints picked out with some sharply-contrasting notes of live colour.

NOTE: For later works by Manet, see: The Balcony (1868); Portrait of Emile Zola (1868); Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets (1872) and The Road-Menders, Rue de Berne (1878).

For a review of outdoor scenic
works, see Landscape Painting,
and the French Barbizon School.
For a review of Impressionism
and plein-air art, see:
Impressionist Landscapes.

For information and examples
of portraiture, please see:
Impressionist Portraits.

The best collection of Impressionist
and Post-Impressionist paintings
hangs in the Musee d'Orsay Paris.

For details of the best
modern painters, see:
Famous Painters.


There is nothing arbitrary about so many people together; they are there in natural surroundings and at ease. However, there is no doubt it was painted in the studio, as was traditional. But progress is manifest, if we think of the great compositions of Courbet, in which the symbolic character of each figure is always dominant, admirably as they may be treated individually. For the first time, through Manet, we get a view of the whole of a society whose concrete appearance is translated by a pure perception. They are not individuals placed next to one another but the various articulated elements of a collective reality in which distinguishing factors are self-effacing and melt into the whole. In the "Old Musician" Manet still paints juxtaposition of figures - one might say walkers-on since they are a sort of stock model - each placed in a fixed pose and in its place, and moreover with a remarkable strength of individual presence.

I think that "Music in the Tuileries" may be considered, before and much more rightly so than "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe", as the first work of modern painting, that which best illustrates what Malraux has so well defined as painting without any other significance than the art of painting. In Manet's work there appears for the first time a certain simultaneity of feelings (instead of a fixed form of composition) and, in this submission to their strength, a number of necessary deformations. Certain figures assume a disproportionate scale and coloured masses abound. All that counts is the effect of the whole. It is also a stock work in which so much detail, isolated and magnified, is to become the basis for later paintings by Manet or even his friends, Monet or Renoir, who were to repeat this alignment of yellow and blue, or that silky garment with black and white stripes.

Curiously Manet never again allowed himself to tackle anything so ambitious, except in a still smaller canvas (24 x 29 in.) "Masked Ball at the Opera" (1873), where we find an even more severe ballet of tall black forms, in a clear atmosphere because it is in the light of a closed room and not in a natural setting. This painting may have been invoked by Mallarme, who considered it the culminating point in the works of his new-found friend. When we know the sort of voluntary self-effacement which was characteristic of Manet, always retiring about his work, we are led to the belief that these two exceptionally ambitious and significant works each bear the mark of two creative geniuses rather than one, Manet and Baudelaire in the former, Manet and Mallarme in the latter. If Manet is revealed as such an extraordinary discoverer, may it not be because he also possesses the eyes of these two great poets who, within the span of a few years, are the greatest and most important figures in French thought? Some tend to minimise his friendship with Baudelaire because the poet did not accord him the greater study he devoted to Delacroix, Daumier or even Constantin Guys. But Delacroix's work, great as he may have been in his old age, already belongs to the past, while that of the new painting (as it was called before the name Impressionism was invented, and the term is much broader and better suited to Manet) has scarcely begun. Baudelaire lived through it not as an onlooker but in Manet. It was he who, at the time of the odious attacks on "Olympia," had the strength, despite his own desperate condition, to write his famous letter to Manet, exhorting and supporting the painter. Very soon afterwards Baudelaire is no longer himself, unable to write or speak. He dies with at least two of Manet's paintings beside him. Some years later Mallarme has become the most intimate friend of the painter, the one who meets him daily in the morning at the studio or in the afternoon after school, with long conversations and exchanges which are reflected in the illustrations for the translation of The Raven by Poe and for Apres-Midi d'un Faune, and in the marvellously moulded portrait which Manet paints of his friend and which is exactly the picture of his interlocutor.


This shows the exceptional relationship of Manet in relation to his painter friends and explains their worship of him, the reverence which they show towards him and, on his part, the reserve for which he is sometimes reproached, for instance, when he remains aloof from their exhibitions. He has a unique and indomitable physical bearing despite his retiring nature. This manner is independent of his painting activity; it rejects all theoretical activity and is only the result of a form, a style of living, an elegance, a dandyism (recalling Baudelaire), an urbaneness and a taste for debate not without extreme susceptibility (he duelled furiously one day with his friend Duranty when he thought he found some reservations in the latter's mind). He always had a great curiosity, sometimes a sudden weariness. Mallarme was to write later, trying to recall to mind a characteristic trait of the friend who was no longer there. Manet also had a great simplicity, even naivety. Mallarme referred to his" ingenuousness". He rejoiced at being admitted to the Salon and wanted nothing else, just as Baudelaire thought twice as strongly of canvassing his election to the French Academy. Neither wanted to be the cause of a scandal and yet, as Georges Bataille quite correctly writes, Manet was to become the chance instrument of metamorphosis.

Why the scandal and why Manet? Up until then his career showed every sign of brilliance and facility. He has been known since he was at the Couture studio: in 1861, the portrait of his parents, in a rather Dutch form, is accepted with honourable mention. Later his liking for Spain, shared since Romanticism by so many artists and writers, has nothing surprising about it. He still reveres the model, even if he treats it in an unusual manner.

The blow falls with the exhibition of "Music in the Tuileries" surrounded by Spanish paintings, at the Martinet Gallery in March and April of 1863. The real art critics and artists are not deceived. The young Monet, who at this time does not know its author, suffers a real shock. The Saul of Impressionism finds his road to Damascus. But reaction only really breaks out on 15 May in the same year when Manet exhibits "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" at the Salon des Refuses in the Palace of Industry, which the Emperor had generously allowed to be held because of the extreme conservatism of the French Academy in the form of the Salon jury. This hysteria was to last three or four years, renewed again at the Salon of 1865 by "Olympia," painted in 1863.

Today it is almost impossible to understand how these two paintings could have inspired such gross insults and such violent taking of sides. The arguments have been brought up so many times that we may dispense with reviving them again; they are of no interest in themselves, in their monotonous repetition, nor because of their authors, who are now completely forgotten. This violence can only barely be explained by a sort of diffuse realisation of the importance of Manet, of the role he was to play without knowing exactly what. It allows the rage of his enemies to be measured.

Among the pretexts which may have caused it, I can see barely one, which Manet undoubtedly did not want, but which resulted from the technique of contrasts which he had elaborated: the nudes at the centre of the two paintings no longer have anything of the conventional drawing school figures but, with their lewd whiteness, evoke a sensation of undress which, placed in the surroundings of daily life, profoundly stirred the hypocrisy of the period. (Let us recall the outraged Empress slashing with her cane at the buxom nude in Courbet's "Source.") These white colours today remain striking whereas their contemporaries saw them as dirty.

Whatever the pretext it could not have been a worse choice. The two compositions, as more far-sighted and cooler minds were soon to show, were inspired by the most classic of Renaissance models: "Judgment of Paris," by Raphael, made popular by the engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi. Undoubtedly in "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" there is a shock effect in the alternation of nude and dressed figures (one of them rather comic in an indoor jacket and tasselled cap), representing rather a succession of moments than a homogeneous group. The landscape is presented also a little like a decor of successive plantings, from which the luminous backgrounds are lit up. What strikes us most today about this hybrid work is the extraordinary still life in the foreground, spread out on the blue clothing. "Olympia," on the other hand, is a work of wonderful unity in which all the elements are linked together without the slightest break and flow together to give the impression of sumptuousness to this slight, slender body. The expanses of lightness - the mat flesh, yellow and pink wrap and bluish sheets - are relieved by several elements of black, more and more intense up to the ribbon above which the head appears to be cut off. All this is spread out with regal cleverness. It is a showpiece perfectly executed and it is easily understood why Monet did not hesitate later to choose it as the object of a national subscription to be offered to the Louvre. From the time it is shown, Manet's triumph is assured. And in fact in this year of 1865 what could anyone put in his way? Hence the impotent rage of some people. Thus Manet is alone. He carries everything before him.

Of the other painters of his age, Degas exhibits another of his great classical compositions, "Misfortunes of the City of Orleans," on which the eminent artist Puvis de Chavannes congratulates him. Cezanne has yet to properly emerge. Of the other Impressionist painters (ten years younger than Manet), the most important group, that of Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Bazille, have barely come out of the Gleyre studio and as yet have had little chance to show what they can do. It is there, however, that the succession is being prepared, thanks to supporters like Paul Durand-Ruel. For more, see: Best Impressionist Paintings.

NEXT: (4) Impressionist Claude Monet.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of an excerpt from Impressionism, by Jacques Lassaigne (1966).

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