Édouard Manet

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Manet, Édouard


Born Jan. 23, 1832, in Paris; died there Apr. 30, 1883. French artist. Son of a government official.

Manet spent most of his life in Paris, where he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1850-56), studying with T. Couture. He was influenced by Italian Renaissance and 17th-century masters, such as Giorgione, Titian, Velázquez, and F. Hals, whose works he copied, as well as by F. Goya and E. Delacroix. In Manet’s early works (late 1850’s to early 1860’s), which are a gallery of incisively rendered types and characters, a lifelike authenticity of image is generally combined with a romantic treatment of the model’s external appearance (Absinthe Drinker, 1859, New Carlsberg Sculpture Gallery, Copenhagen; Lola of Valencia, 1862, Museum of Impressionism, Paris). Manet used and reinterpreted the themes and motifs of the old masters, seeking to relate them to modern life and to resolve new problems in painting. Thus, there are contemporary figures in Lunch on the Grass (1863, Museum of Impressionism), and the theme, which was suggested by Giorgione’s Rural Concert (draped and nude figures against a landscape), is imbued with an unusual, somewhat contradictory, emotional intensity. A highly creative interpretation of nature and a striving for extratemporal artistic formulas combined with a capacity for capturing the spirit of an age for the viewer distinguish the painting Olympia (1863, Museum of Impressionism), in which the model for the classical, usually mythologized nude is clearly a mundane mid-19th century Parisienne.

During the 1860’s, Manet’s painting gradually became free of the opaque, dense tones and black shadows that characterized his early works. But the outlines preserve and even intensify the contrasts between dark and light, imparting a flatness to the representation. The artist’s manner became at once freer and more elaborate, and the texture of his paintings was increasingly enriched with transparent reflections and values. In the 1860’s, Manet turned to themes of modern history (Execution of Emperor Maximilian, 1867, State Art Gallery, Mannheim). Later, repeating this compositional theme, he responded to the events of the Paris Commune of 1871 (Execution of the Communards, watercolor, 1871, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts). At the same time, Manet’s intense interest in modern life was revealed in scenes seized from everyday life and almost devoid of action, yet full of lyrical spirituality and inner meaning (Lunch in the Studio, New State Gallery, Munich; and The Balcony, Museum of Impressionism, both painted in 1868). Portraits similar to the latter works in their general treatment also reveal his interest in contemporary events (Portrait of E. Zola, 1868, Museum of Impressionism).

Giving new life to 19th-century genre painting and poeticizing what at first glance appeared to be ordinary situations and the world of objects surrounding man, Manet brought out the secret harmony of being. Manet, whose art anticipated the rise of impressionism, became close to the impressionist masters in the late 1860’s (E. Degas, C. Monet, and A. Renoir). In the early 1870’s he took up plein-air painting. A number of his works (Argenteuil, Museum of Fine Arts, Tournai, and Monet and Madame Monet in a Boat, New State Gallery, Munich; both works painted in 1874) show the features of this method (deliberately fragmented composition, saturation with light, and a brilliant, vibrant color spectrum). However, Manet differed from the impressionists. He preserved a constructive clarity of drawing, which organized the planes rhythmically; he continued to use gray and black tones; and, on the whole, he did not abandon genre painting, with its literary and associative substructure.

With rare powers of observation, Manet selected the most characteristic moments from the hectic, checkered life of a great city, from a kaleidoscope of instantaneous mise-en-scenes. Attracted not only to their picturesque effect but also to their psychological content, he raised various phenomena to the level of the typical, synthesizing his observations and revealing the comic, sad, or even tragic aspects of events (Masquerade Ball at the Opera, 1873, Havemeyer collection, New York; Nana, 1877, the Hamburg Art Gallery). In his most important and significant work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-82, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London), which is devoted to the theme of the illusory quality of happiness, the clash of dreams and reality, and loneliness in a crowd, Manet attains total unity of concept, elegantly ingenious composition, and painterly content.

In the 1870’s he concentrated on portraiture, treating it from the same point of view as his thematic compositions, expanding its possibilities, and transforming it into an exploration of the inner world of contemporary man (Portrait of S. Mallarme, 1876, Museum of Impressionism). He also painted still-lifes and landscapes and worked as a graphic artist, lithographer, and etcher.

Manet’s art is among the phenomena that consummated and, at the same time, revived the realistic tradition in 19th-century French art. In many ways the artistic problems first enunciated and solved by Manet determined and directed the artistic quest of the succeeding historical period.


Zola, E. Eduard Mane. Leningrad, 1935. (Translated from French.) [Barskaia, A.] E. Mane. Moscow, 1961
Eduard Mane: Zhizn’ Pis’ma, Vospominaniia: Kritika Sovremennikov. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from French.)
Jamot, P., G. Wildenstein, and M. L. Bataille. Manet, vols.1-2. Paris, 1932.
Hamilton, G. H. Manet and His Critics. New Haven (Conn.) and London, 1954.
Venturi, M., and S. Orienti, L’opera pittorica di Ed. Manet. Milan, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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