Manet – The Rebel in a Frockcoat


Édouard Manet is one of the most remarkable and fascinating artists of the 19th century. His life is full of contradictions – he loved to dress well and be a ‘man about town’ but was also an extremely hard worked devoted to his art; he was sharp tongued and had an acerbic wit, yet was also generous and compassionate; he was outwardly a respectable married man, yet had a succession of lovers and admirers; he had a great influence on the Impressionist painters yet refused to exhibit with them.

Born into a wealthy Parisian family, Manet attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Thomas Couture where he learnt to draw and to admire the great classical painters of the past, but he challenged the academic system of art training.

The Dejeuner sur L’Herbe of 1863 shocked the public and art establishment by making references to the great paintings of Giorgione, while depicting a notorious nude model sitting with two men dressed in contemporary fashion. Olympia, exhibited at the 1865 Salon, went further suggesting a prostitute receiving flowers from a male client.

Manet made references to the work of Titian and Giorgione as well as to contemporary pornographic images. In 1867, he began work on his most political painting, The Execution of Maximilian which attacked the government of Napoleon III, which Manet as a staunch Republican could not tolerate.

During the 1870s Manet produced his most Impressionist paintings influenced by Claude Monet and by Berthe Morisot, whom he adored. He painted some wonderful café interiors, culminating in The Bar at the Folies Bergère, 1882. Manet was also great portrait painter, able to capture the sitters’ character in a few seemingly effortless strokes of his brush. He painted many of the great figures of his day – Zola, Cemenceau, Mallarmé, as well as a succession of beautiful women.

Manet’s private life is intriguing. He met Suzanne Leenhof when he was very young, having a son by her and eventually marrying her, but his heart lay with Berthe Morisot, who conveniently married his brother Eugène. He died a painful death aged only 51.

This is a fascinating lecture, full of art history and anecdote, about a fascinating man.