Edouard Manet is considered by art critics and historians as one of the most significant painters of the transitional period from Classic to Modern art. He was born to an upscale Parisian family on January 1832. His father was a judge, Auguste, and his mother, Eugénie-Desirée Fournier was related to Swedish royalty, and her father was a diplomat. Manet’s uncle, Edmond Fournier, was the only relative who stimulated his love for art, taking him to visit the Louvre - unlike his father, who wished that Manet studied law. At the age of thirteen, the young aspiring artist met the politician and journalist Antonin Proust as he enroled in drawing lessons. Proust later became the Minister of Fine Arts, as well as Manet’s good friend. In 1850, the French painter began to study under Thomas Couture, an Academic artist, after he failed the admission test for the Navy. He continued studying with Couture for six years, in addition to copying works of past masters in the Louvre. During this period of studies, Manet also traveled extensively to locations like Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, coming in contact with artwork by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, and Frans Hals, all who inspired him deeply.
After concluding his travels and studies with Couture in 1856, he opened his own studio. By this time, Manet was adopting themes of Realist artists like Gustave Courbet, emphasizing contemporary themes instead of Classical subjects of religious or mythological stories - The Absinthe Drinker, concluded in 1859, is an example of a painting with a Modern motif. In 1861, Manet received recognition from the Academy when two of his paintings were accepted at the prestigious Paris Salon, including the masterpiece The Spanish Singer. Although academically trained, Manet used looser brushstrokes and simplified details, which surprised many young artists. One of the artists first masterpiece was Luncheon on the Grass, which was rejected from the Paris Salon. The artwork was considered controversial and was shown in the parallel exhibit Salon des Refusés, organized by the Impressionists. Manet joined traditional compositions and references of Classic art in paintings with contemporary themes which shocked critics and public alike. The nude Olympia, painted in 1863 was another controversial masterpiece which references the Classic artwork Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian as well as The Nude Maja by Goya. Olympia, a portrayal of a claimed prostitute, was eventually accepted into the Paris Salon, but not without creating a scandal. The same year Manet concluded the artwork, he married Suzanne Leenhoff, who appears in many paintings, including Reading.
Berthe Morisot is responsible for bringing Manet to join in the Modern ways of painting around 1868, like painting en plein air, which she learned through Camille Corot. Through her, he met and befriended many painters of the Impressionism, like Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, and Alfred Sisley.
The artist’s body began to feel the health effects of his contracted syphilis by his mid-forties, especially extreme pain. His legs became partially paralyzed, and he developed difficulties in controlling his movements, known as locomotor ataxia. Manet was able to paint small artworks, mostly still lifes, like The Lemon and A Bunch of Asparagus, during the final phase of his life. In 1882, he saw his last masterpiece accepted in the Paris Salon; A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère). He passed away in 1883 in his hometown, about two weeks after amputating his gangrened foot. Manet was an outstanding artist, who not only produced beautiful Classic Realists paintings, but also delved into the modern world of Impressionism, and continues to inspire until today.