Artists Who Died Before 50: Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet (1883-1932).
Artists are memory makers… or rather, memory keepers. What we do is immortalize a time, an era, a community, a person in a portrait. It is why we are still fascinated with a little known lady captured in the Mona Lisa. It is why an era that lasted a little more than 11 years and dancers who only danced 2 years at best, are immortalized forever in the posters of the Moulin Rouge by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. It is why the era of this artist will be forever remembered. This is the artist who started the direction of the artists’ movement that has remained a favorite of people for a century: the Impressionist movement.
It’s so sad when anyone dies young, but doubly so for artists because there is so much more they could have done to make the world a more beautiful, colorful place. The sad fact is that artists feel deeply, all the highs and all the lows of life. Sometimes I envy people like my mother, who have a very “even keel.” People like that seldom get mad or upset (although when they do, look out). However they also don’t get overly jovial or jocular. Every day is a straight line from sunrise to sunset. That’s my Mom.
Gratefully, I don’t live like that. I am one of the artists. When I am happy, I am a very ecstatic, giggling fool. And when I’m sad, I am in the dismal dumps. No halfway for me. I feel it all and it often shows up in my work.
This is the story of an artist who felt deeply the things of ordinary life in Paris: Edouard Manet (1883-1932).
There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.— Edouard Manet
Forerunner of the Impressionists
Manet was the French painter who was considered the pivotal figure in the transition between Realism and Impressionism. He was the first 19th century artist to begin painting modern life instead of symbolism, mythology and classical subjects. His work is considered the forerunner and origin of Impressionism although he didn’t really paint in the impressionist style that one would recognize today: that of Dega, Monet or Van Gogh. Instead he opened the way for these great figures of the Impressionist movement.
Expected to pursue a law career
He was born to an upper-class household with strong political connections. He was expected by his father to pursue a career in law but he had other ambitions, directed to art by his uncle. His father insisted he join the Navy but having failed the entrance exam twice, he had to relent to the boy’s wishes of pursuing art. Just imagine if he had become a French Naval officer, the direction of the art world may have been very different.
You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real.— Edouard Manet
The common man's painter
During his studies, he had opportunity to visit Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, where he was influenced by many painter’s works such as the Dutch painter Frans Hals, and the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya. In those early years his style was characterized by loose brush strokes and simplification of details. He began painting contemporary subjects such as beggars, singers, Gypsies and people in cafes. The usual subjects for painters was religious, historical or mythological but Manet preferred to stay away from those subjects and paint the average people of the day. He also had a tendency to leave the figures less modeled by light and shadow and instead paint them as large shapes of color. His work was received in the annual art show, The Paris Salon, but was considered “slightly slapdash” when compared to the more meticulous style of other Salon paintings. This is the very thing that intrigues and inspired so many younger artists at that time.
No one can be a painter unless he cares for painting above all else.— Edouard Manet
Exhibits and Rejections
Later what is considered some of Manet’s major works, such as The Luncheon on the Grass, was rejected by the Paris Salon and was not exhibited. Some considered this piece to be unfinished while at the same time the composition revels his study of the old masters style. The Salon challenged him to give a nude painting, to which he painted Olympia, a self-assured prostitute and it was accepted and exhibited. The public was so outraged and offended by the painting that only the precautions in the exhibit hanging prevented people from puncturing or tearing the painting. One of the things that was so unusual about his paintings is the lack of modeling, the manipulation of light and shadow. Many of the figures appear to have been cut out of colored paper and pasted on, which was something inspired by Japanese block prints: large areas of flat color. This is what made many people think the work was unfinished.
Olympia, 1863 (Exhibited 1865)
Have you heard of Manet before? or did you think it was the other Impressionist, Monet?
Friends with the Impressionists
He became friends with the Impressionists, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, and they drew him into their group and activities. He continued to seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon although the others wished to abandon it and pursue their own exhibitions. His mother worried that he would waste and exhaust all his inheritance on this art pursuit, which was proving to be expensive. Most of the Impressionists refused to use the color black, but Manet continued using it and continued exhibiting at the Salon. There were some critics who championed him in the press, among them Emile Zola, whom he in turn painted.
Black is not a color.— Edouard Manet
After his father died, Manet married a young woman who had been employed by the family to teach piano and whom Manet had be romantically involved with for 10 years. She had a child out of wedlock and it is assumed that the child was either Edouard’s or his brother’s. The boy was used as a model in several of Manet’s paintings, as was his mother, Manet’s wife, Suzanne.
It is not enough to know your craft - you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more.— Edouard Manet
Died at 49.
In his forties Manet contracted syphilis which went untreated. He also suffered from rheumatism. In his final years he was in considerable pain due to the side-effects of syphilis. He died at the age of 49.
Like most famous artists and famous paintings, the begin to have a life of their own and then people can’t help but do a spoof on them, changing them just enough to make them funny or iconic. Manet was no different. Here is one of the many you can find spoofing his famous works.
Worth $65 million dollars.
I am an artist. I appreciate the stories and struggles that other artists have had to endure to make the mark in history that some of them have made. Many times it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Other times it is a matter of patience for when the public is ready for your style. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who show no more talent than some others, achieve fame, however it is a lot of chance, happenstance and who you know more than talent most of the time. In the case of Édouard Manet, he had the income from his family inheritance to support him until his artwork began to sell and pay off. He definitely had great talent but was not immediately appreciated by the public. Today you can buy a Manet print for under $20 (depending on size and frame) but the last original Manet (Spring) sold at auction for $65 million dollars. A bit out of my price range.