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Edouard Manet
(1832-1883)

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Edouard Manet was a French painter and printmaker, whose work inspired the Impressionist style, but who refused to identify his own work with Impressionism. 

His originality lay in his choice of subjects from the modern world and in his bold, vigorous brushwork qualities that made him an inspiration to the Impressionists.

Édouard Manet who is sometimes called the first Impressionist showed that capturing subtle effects of light can be accomplished as effectively by the juxtaposition of bright, contrasting colours as by shadings of intermediary tones. 

  • France 1952.  Edouard Manet, engraved after a contemporary photograph. 

France 1952. Edouard Manet, engraved after a contemporary photograph.

Manet was born in Paris on January 23, 1832, the son of a senior official in the Ministry of Justice. To avoid studying law, as his father wished, he went to sea. Eventually, Manet overcame his father’s opposition to his becoming an artist and from 1850 to 1856 he studied in Paris under Thomas Couture, a well-respected academic painter. However, his real artistic education was gained through studying the works of the Old Masters in the Louvre and on extensive travels he made to visit some of the great galleries of Europe. 

Congo Brazzaville 1984. Edouard Manet. Vase with Flowers. Umm Al Qiqain 1986. Edouard Manet. Vase with Flowers. Mali 1982. Edouard Manet. Vase with Flowers.

The works of Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco de Goya were the principal influences on his art. It is ironic that, although he was often attacked for the modernity of his ideas, few artists of his time showed such dedication to the great art of the past. His far-reaching influence on French painting and the general development of modern art was due to his portrayal of everyday subject matter, his use of broad, simple color areas and a vivid, summary brush technique. 

France 1983. Edouard Manet. "The Flutist". Niger 1982. Edouard Manet. "Still Life with Fruits". New Caledonia 1989. Edouard Manet. "The Escape from Rochefort".

Manet began to paint genre (everyday) subjects, such as old beggars, street urchins, café characters, and Spanish bullfight scenes. He adopted a direct, bold brush technique in his treatment of realistic subject matter. 

France 1962. Edouard Manet. "Madame Manet on the Blue Sofa". France 1962. Edouard Manet. First Day Cover of "Madame Manet on the Blue Sofa".

In 1863 his famous "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe" was shown at the Salon des Refusés, a new exhibition place opened by Napoleon III following the protests of artists rejected at the official Salon. Manet's canvas, portraying a woodland picnic that included a seated female nude attended by two fully dressed young men, attracted immediate and wide attention, but was bitterly attacked by the critics. Hailed by young painters as their leader, Manet became the central figure in the dispute between the academic and rebellious art factions of his time. 

Edouard Manet. "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe". Label issued by Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

"Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" exhibited at the Salon des Refusés, which had been organized in opposition to the salon showing of the Académie, signaled the beginning of a new era in art.  The Impressionist painters organized their first independent exhibition in 1874. The 28 exhibitors were united in their common rejection of the prevailing art styles and their admiration for the bold vignette-like paintings of Manet. 

France 2006. Edouard Manet. "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe", created 1883.

In 1864 the official Salon accepted two of his paintings, and in 1865 he exhibited his Olympia (1863, Musée d'Orsay), a nude based on a Venus by Titian, which aroused storms of protest in academic circles because of its unorthodox realism. 

  • Edouard Manet. "Olympia" (1863) Orsay Museum, Paris. This image is not a postage stamp, but a label issued by the Orsay Museum in Paris. The sheet containing this label shows six different paintings by Manet. Click here to see the full sheet. The link will open in a new window. 

Edouard Manet. "Olympia". Label issued by Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Monaco 1982. Edouard Manet. "A Couple in a Sailing Boat".

Manet was one of the most influential artists of the 19th century. 

However, coming from a highly respectable social background, his intention was not to be an artistic rebel, insisting that he was not trying to overthrow traditional ideas. 

Throughout his career he sought conventional success and honours in the art world. Two years before his death he was made a member of the Légion d’Honneur. 

  • Monaco 1982.  "A Couple in a Sailing Boat" (1872). 

In 1866 the French novelist Émile Zola, who championed the art of Manet in the newspaper Figaro, became a close friend of the painter. Also the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé became one of Manet's friends. He was soon joined by the young group of French impressionist painters, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne, who were influenced by Manet's art and who, in turn, influenced him, particularly in the use of lighter colors and an emphasis on the effects of light. 

Rwanda 1973.  Edouard Manet. Portrait of Emile Zola.

Edouard Manet. Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé. Label issued by Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Manet served as an officer in the French army from 1870 to 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War. He did not gain recognition until late in life, when his portraits became much sought after. Fully understandable when one watches these exquisite portraits of his French contemporaries within politics, literature, art, and science. 

Manama 1972. Edouard Manet. Portrait of Georges Clemenceau. Manama 1972. Edouard Manet. Portrait of Berthe Morisot. Manama 1972. Edouard Manet. Portrait of Henri Rochefort.

In 1882 one of his finest pictures, The Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Courtauld Institute and Galleries, London), was exhibited at the Salon, and an old friend, who was then minister of fine arts, obtained the Legion of Honor for the artist, but this distinction -- the kind of award he had long craved -- came too late to be enjoyed. Manet died in Paris on April 30, 1883. He left, besides many watercolors and pastels, 420 oil paintings. 

Sources and links:

Other Impressionist painters on this site (in alphabetical order). 

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