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Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883) was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.

Manet was born in Paris into well-connected family, his mother, being the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince Charles Bernadotte, and his father being a French judge. However like many artists of the day Manet rejected the future that was mapped out for him and became engrossed in the world of painting.

In 1856, Manet opened a studio. His style followed the realism initiated by Gustave Courbet. Manet had two canvases accepted at the Salon in 1861, a portrait of his mother and father, and the other, The Spanish Dancer which received great interest and mixed reactions. A major early work is The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe). The Paris Salon rejected it for exhibition in 1863 but Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) later in the year. The painting's juxtaposition of fully dressed men and a nude woman was controversial. Manet was challenged to give the Salon a nude painting to display. His depiction of a self-assured prostitute was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1865, where it created a scandal. According to Antonin Proust, "only the precautions taken by the administration prevented the painting being punctured and torn" by offended viewers. Olympia's body as well as her gaze is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out as her servant offers flowers from one of her male suitors. As with Luncheon on the Grass, both paintings raised the issue of prostitution within contemporary France and the roles of women within society.

He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro through another painter, Berthe Morisot, is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plain air painting, which she had been practising since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot. Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions.

Manet's did many paintings of café scenes and observations of social life in 19th-century Paris.He painted the upper class enjoying more formal social and other popular activities such as the Races at Longchamp. He was interested in the French intervention in Mexico, painting three large versions of the Execution of Emperor Maximilian, an event which raised concerns regarding French foreign and domestic policy. Neither the paintings nor a lithograph of the subject were permitted to be shown in France.

In 1881, with pressure from his friend Antonin Proust, the French government awarded Manet the Légion d'honneur.

In his mid-forties Manet's health deteriorated, and he developed severe pain and partial paralysis in his legs. He believed was a circulatory problem, but in reality he was suffering from locomotor ataxia, a known side-effect of syphilis.In his last years Manet painted many small-scale still lifes of fruits and vegetables, such as Bunch of Asparagus and The Lemon and completed his last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère), in 1882 and it hung in the Salon that year. In April 1883, his left foot was amputated because of gangrene, and he died eleven days later in Paris. He is buried in the Passy Cemetery in the city.

Manet's works comprise of some 430 oil paintings, 89 pastels, and more than 400 works on paper. Although harshly condemned by critics his work had admirers such as Emile Zola from the beginning. The art historian Beatrice Farwell says Manet "has been universally regarded as the Father of Modernism. With Courbet he was among the first to take serious risks with the public whose favour he sought, the first to make alla prima painting the standard technique for oil painting and one of the first to take liberties with Renaissance perspective and to offer ‘pure painting’ as a source of aesthetic pleasure. He was a pioneer, again with Courbet, in the rejection of humanistic and historical subject-matter, and shared with Degas the establishment of modern urban life as acceptable material for high art."

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