Famous Painters and Paintings: Edouard Manet

About the famous painter Edouard Manet, his biography and history of the artist's life.


The career of Manet was one of the most curious in the history of painting. Whereas artists like Claude Monet or Paul Gauguin were deliberate revolutionaries--and would not have had it otherwise--Manet himself was a revolutionary against his will. What he sought, and never stopped seeking, was official recognition. The day on which he was belatedly awarded the Legion of Honor, 15 months before he died, was the happiest of his life. This man, who wished for a smooth and respected career, caused the greatest scandals that any painter in the world has ever provoked. He believed his efforts would be rewarded by academic success; what he gained was the admiration and friendship of those who were most rebellious and most hostile toward the official bodies in the world of art.

Manet was born in 1832 into an upper-middle-class family in Paris. His father, a model government official, opposed an art career for his son, but when Edouard failed his examinations for the Navy, the elder Manet yielded, and in January, 1850, the young man became a pupil of Thomas Couture, at that time a very well-known painter who was considered to be "daring." However, Manet found himself in disagreement with his tutor and they soon parted company. The 1st painting he submitted to the Paris Salon, The Absinthe Drinker, was rejected--the 1st of many rejections. Both subject and method of painting were said to be offending. Believing the general public would understand his work better than connoisseurs, Manet showed his paintings in a private gallery. But people were shocked, critics abusive. That year, so many paintings were refused by the Salon (Manet's among them), that Napoleon III established a Salon des Refuses (Salon of the rejects). Crowds came--mostly to scoff--and Manet's works were the target of the most violent insults. At the Paris World's Fair of 1867, Manet built a pavilion at his own expense in which to exhibit his works.

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