Edouard Manet was born in Paris on January 23, 1832, to an affluent and well connected family. His mother, Eugenie-Desiree Fournier, was the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince, Charles Bernadotte, from whom the current Swedish monarchs are descended. His father, Auguste Manet, was a French judge who expected Edouard to pursue a career in law. His uncle, Charles Fournier, encouraged him to pursue painting and often took young Manet to the Louvre. In 1845, following the advice of his uncle, Manet enrolled in a special course of drawing where he met Antonin Proust, future Minister of Fine Arts, and a subsequent life-long friend.
At his father's suggestion, in 1848 he sailed on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro. After twice failing the examination to join the navy, the elder Manet relented to his son's wishes to pursue an art education. From 1850 to 1856, Manet studied under the academic painter Thomas Couture, a painter of large historical paintings. In his spare time he copied the old masters in the Louvre.
From 1853 to 1856 he visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, during which time he absorbed the influences of the Dutch painter Frans Hals, and the Spanish artists Diego Velazquez and Francisco Jose de Goya.
In 1856, he opened his own studio. His style in this period was characterized by loose brush strokes, simplification of details, and the suppression of transitional tones. Adopting the current style of realism initiated by Gustave Courbet, he painted The Absinthe Drinker (1858-59) and other contemporary subjects such as beggars, singers, Gypsies, people in cafes, and bullfights. After his early years, he rarely painted religious, mythological, or historical subjects, examples include his Christ Mocked, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, and Christ with Angels, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cezanne, and Camille Pissarro, through another painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group and drew him into their activities. The grand niece of the painter Jean-Honore Fragonard, Morisot's paintings first had been accepted in the Salon de Paris in 1864 and she continued to show in the salon for ten years.
Manet became the friend and colleague of Berthe Morisot in 1868. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she had been introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot. They had a reciprocating relationship and Manet incorporated some of her techniques into his paintings. In 1874, she became his sister-in-law when she married his brother, Eugene.
In Corner of a Cafe Concert, a man smokes while behind him a waitress serves drinks. In The Beer Drinkers a woman enjoys her beer in the company of a friend. In The Cafe Concert, shown at right, a sophisticated gentleman sits at a bar while a waitress stands resolutely in the background, sipping her drink. In The Waitress, a serving woman pauses for a moment behind a seated customer smoking a pipe, while a ballet dancer, with arms extended as she is about to turn, is on stage in the background.
Manet also painted the upper class enjoying more formal social activities. In Masked ball at the Opera, Manet shows a lively crowd of people enjoying a party. Men stand with top hats and long black suits while talking to women with masks and costumes. He included portraits of his friends in this picture.
Manet depicted other popular activities in his work. In Racing at Longchamp, an unusual perspective is employed to underscore the furious energy of racehorses as they rush toward the viewer. In Skating Manet shows a well dressed woman in the foreground, while others skate behind her. Always there is the sense of active urban life continuing behind the subject, extending outside the frame of the canvas.
In View of the International Exhibition, soldiers relax, seated and standing, prosperous couples are talking. There is a gardener, a boy with a dog, a woman on horseback - in short, a sample of the classes and ages of the people of Paris.
Manet depicted many scenes of the streets of Paris in his works. The Rue Mosnier Decked with Flags depicts red, white, and blue pennants covering buildings on either side of the street-another painting of the same title features a one-legged man walking with crutches. Again depicting the same street, but this time in a different context, is Rue Monsnier with Pavers, in which men repair the roadway while people and horses move past.
The Railway, widely known as The Gare Saint-Lazare, was painted in 1873. The setting is the urban landscape of Paris in the late nineteenth century. Using his favorite model in his last painting of her, a fellow painter, Victorine Meurent, also the model for Olympia and the Luncheon on the Grass, sits before an iron fence holding a sleeping puppy and an open book in her lap. Next to her is a little girl with her back to the painter, who watches a train pass beneath them.
He completed painting his last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere), in 1882 and it hung in the Salon that year.
In 1875, a French edition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven included lithographs by Manet and translation by Mallarme.
In 1881, with pressure from his friend Antonin Proust, the French government awarded Manet the Legion d'honneur.
In 1863 Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch-born piano teacher of his own age with whom he had been romantically involved for approximately ten years. Leenhoff initially had been employed by Manet's father, Auguste, to teach Manet and his younger brother piano. She also may have been Auguste's mistress. In 1852, Leenhoff gave birth, out of wedlock, to a son, Leon Koella Leenhoff.
After the death of his father in 1862, Manet married Suzanne. Eleven-year-old Leon Leenhoff, whose father may have been either of the Manets, posed often for Manet. Most famously, he is the subject of the Boy Carrying a Sword of 1861 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He also appears as the boy carrying a tray in the background of The Balcony.
Manet died of untreated syphilis and rheumatism, which he contracted in his forties. The disease caused him considerable pain and partial paralysis from locomotor ataxia in the years prior to his death.
His left foot was amputated because of gangrene, an operation followed eleven days later by his death. He died at the age of fifty-one in Paris in 1883, and is buried in the Cimetiere de Passy in the city.
In 2000, one of his paintings sold for over $20 million.