The art of Manet was one of the most important aesthetic factors contributing to the emergence of Impressionism. Although he was only twelve years older than Monet, Bazille, Renoir, and Sisely, those painters considered him a master. The originality of Manet’s painting and his independence from academic canons opened new creative horizons for the Impressionists.
Manet is one of the most famous artists from the second half of the nineteenth century linked to the impressionists, although he was not really one of them. He had great influence on French painting partly because of the choice he made for his subjects from everyday life, the use of pure colours, and his fast and free technique. He made, in his own work, the transition between Courbet’s Realism and the work of the Impressionists.
Born a high bourgeois, he chose to become a painter after failing the entry to the Marine School. He studied with Thomas Couture, an Academic painter, but it was thanks to the numerous travels he made around Europe from 1852 that he started to find out what would become his own style.
His first paintings were mostly portraits and genre scenes, inspired by his love for Spanish masters like Velázquez and Goya. In 1863 he presented his masterpiece Luncheon on the Grass at the ‘Salon des Refusés’. Manet shocked viewers at the Salon des Refusés with this large painting in which he includes both naked women and dressed male students. He at first had in mind to present a work like Titian’s Pastoral Symphony (1508). In his previous paintings naked women typically did not look directly at the viewer. In this painting, the expression of the lady is natural, relaxed, and without embarrassment. Manet said that light was the chief actor in the work. The basket of fruit on the blue dress in the foreground takes as much importance as the characters and shows Manet’s skills at depicting still-lifes.
Reproductions and parodies of the unforgettable work in many media have been presented over the past 150 years. But two decades after this painting was created, Manet no longer needed to shock in order to win attention. In 1882, he turned fifty. When the Salon opened that May as usual, Parisians went to see his final painting: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.
The beautiful barmaid with the golden fringe and pale pink complexion represented the type of model that Manet loved so: the type of Victorine Meurent and the actress Henriette Hauser, who had posed for Nana. She leans over a marble bar enhanced with an admirable still life. Méry Laurent (Autumn) observes the scene as she leans against a railing; Jeanne Demarsy (Spring) sits behind her. The women’s light-coloured outfits stand out against the men’s black clothing. In the upper left corner, one can make out the legs of an acrobat on her trapeze. And it is only after a certain amount of time that the viewer begins to realize that there is no restaurant or any figures on this canvas: the artist has depicted an enormous mirror. The young girl stands facing the dining room, which is reflected in the mirror and which is where the viewer also finds himself. Manet’s painting represents the culmination of his research in the area of composition: real space completely merges with painting space. Reflected in the mirror is the young girl’s back and the silhouette of the young man she is talking to, which also represents the spectator.
The painting was probably Manet’s true farewell to gay Parisian society. Physicians were unsuccessful in relieving him and his condition was only worsening. Often he had to lay down his paintbrush and rest. Manet spent the summer of 1882 with his family in Rueil. Already nearly immobilized by the illness, he was painting sunny landscapes and floral bouquets in the garden after nature. A medical examination in April 1883 revealed the need to amputate Manet’s left leg due to gangrene.
On 30 April, the day before the opening of the new Salon, Manet passed away.
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