Inspiration Famous Manet Paintings and Curious Facts About His Life and Career

Ardak Kassenova
How did Manet become associated with the Impressionist whilst aiming to please the conventional Salon de Paris? What are some curious facts not many know? Where are some of the famous Manet paintings today?

Who was Édouard Manet?
Early Life
Impressionism and Life
The Boldest of the Manet Paintings
Le Printemps – Spring for ZenART Impressionist Palette
Curious Facts About Manet
Where are the Famous Manet Paintings Displayed?

To celebrate Édouard Manet’s 189th birth anniversary this year, let’s take a look at the most famous Manet paintings and examine facts about the life and career of the artist who bridged two of the most important art movements in history.

ZenART - Manet Paintings

Who was Édouard Manet?

Édouard Manet is a French artist known to have bridged two of the most important art movements in history — Realism and Impressionism — by defying conventional techniques of representation, mixing traditional influences with new Impressionist techniques. Today, Manet’s defiance which resulted in his famous Impressionist paintings is believed to have paved the way to Modernism therefore making Édouard Manet the first Modernist artist in history.

Early Life

Édouard Manet was born on January 23, 1832, in Paris, France to an affluent family. His father, Auguste Manet, was a judge and the chief of staff of the French Ministry of Justice, the son of the mayor of Gennevilliers, a town north of Paris where the Manets owned sizeable property. His mother, born Eugénie-Désirée Fournier, was the daughter of the vice-consul of France in Sweden and the goddaughter of King Charles XIV John of Sweden and Norway, the French-born Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Édouard Manet was the eldest of three, two brothers, Eugene Manet and Gustave Manet.

Manet birthplace - Manet paintings
Present-day – Manet’s birthplace 5 Rue des Petits Augustins now 5 Rue Bonaparte in Paris, commons.wikimedia.org

In 1841, Manet attended secondary school at the boarding Collège Rollin now known as Collège-lycée Jacques-Decour. Manet was a mediocre student who really aspired to be an artist as influenced and encouraged by his maternal uncle, Edmond Fournier. At his uncle’s recommendation, Manet enrolled in a drawing course in 1845 where he met his lifelong friend Antonin Proust, also the future Minister of Fine Arts.

Manet parents - Impressionist paintings
Portrait of Monsieur and Madame Manet. (1860) by Edouard Manet. Oil on canvas. commons.wikimedia.org

Auguste, his father, wanted him to study law and later pursue a career in the same field, however, Manet could not be persuaded to take the path his father had laid out for him. So as a compromise, it was decided that he would instead apply for naval college which he also failed to pass. As suggested by his father, Manet embarked as an apprentice pilot on a vessel in 1848 and upon his return to France in 1849 took the naval examination and once again failed. This is when his father finally yielded to Manet’s aspiration to become a painter.

Pierrot Dancing.  (1849) by Edouard Manet. Ink on paper. wikiart.org

In 1850, Manet enrolled in the studio of the classical painter, Thomas Couture in Paris. And despite their differences, Manet learned the foundations and owed his mastery of drawing and pictorial technique to Thomas Couture. After six years with his mentor, in 1856, Manet left to set up a studio that he then shared with fellow painter Albert de Balleroy. Thanks to his financial security, Manet not only afforded to set up his own studio but also to make trips to further his practice and travelled to The Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. As part of his self-improvement, Manet would often go to the Louvre to practice and copy paintings by Titian and Diego Velasquez. Around this time, in 1857, he met the artist Henri Fantin-Latour who would later paint his portrait.

Impressionism and Life

Édouard Manet submitted his very first entry, The Absinthe Drinker, to the prestigious Salon de Paris exhibition in 1859 and was rejected. The Salon is the official exhibition of the French Academy of Fine Arts or the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris which was naturally juried by members of the institution. Since the piece was a sketchy representation of a homeless drunkard—a subject that defied the conventional rules set by the Academy—it was expected to fail.

Manet The Absinthe Drinker - Impressionist paintings
The Absinthe Drinker. (1859) by Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas. Google Cultural Institute commons.wikimedia.org

In 1863, a year after the death of his father, Manet decided to finally marry his piano teacher and long-time romance, a Dutch woman named Suzanne Leenhoff. Manet and Leenhoff kept their relationship secret from Manet’s father for more than a decade. Leenhoff had given birth to Manet’s child, Léon-Edouard Koëlla on 29 January 1852 way before their marriage. Suzanne Leenhoff would also later be in a number of notable Manet paintings. 

Manet would become friends with the Impressionists in 1868 through Edgar Degas whom he met much earlier. The party includes Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne, and Berthe Morisot who would often include him in their activities. Berthe Morisot became a very close friend of Manet and is said to be the one responsible for persuading Manet to try plein air painting. Throughout their friendship, they’ve helped each other improve their practice and Manet even incorporated some of Morisot’s techniques into his paintings. Berthe Morisot eventually became family when she married Manet’s brother, Eugene in 1874.

Berthe Morisot - Impressionist paintings
Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets. (1872) by Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas. Google Cultural Institute commons.wikimedia.org

The Boldest of the Manet Paintings

Manet’s health started to drastically deteriorate in his mid-forties due to known complications brought about by syphilis. Despite the difficulties from his ailments, Manet was still able to put up a one-man exhibition in 1880 at the offices of the periodical La Vie moderne. In 1882, he took part in a prestigious exhibition of French art in London at the Burlington House. Around the same period, he showed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère at the Salon de Paris, a bold showcase of his prowess as a painter, the piece features a barmaid and the customer before her, a radical composition that allows the viewer to stand in place of the customer.

Manet paintings - A Bar at the Folies-Bergere
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère – Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, (1882). Oil on canvas. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was Manet’s last great contribution. Gangrene developed in his left leg, which needed immediate amputation. Manet passed away eleven days later on 30 April 1883 in Paris. Édouard Manet is buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris, France.

Le Printemps – Spring for ZenART Impressionist Palette

ZenART Infinity Series Impressionist Palette - Manet Paintings
Left: Le Printemps – Spring, (1881) par Édouard Manet. Getty Museum. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org Right: ZenART Supplies Infinity Series Impressionist Palette 2nd Edition

We’re thrilled to announce that our Infinity Series Oil Paints underwent a classy redesign. Now with larger 50 ml tubes, the second edition’s Impressionist Palette cover features Le Printemps (Spring) by Édouard Manet. Le Printemps (Spring) was created in 1881 and debuted at Salon de Paris in 1882. It depicts the Parisian actress Jeanne DeMarsy as the embodiment of Spring, wearing a floral dress with parasol and bonnet set amid lush foliage and blue sky.

Le Printemps (Spring) was originally planned to be a series of four works featuring chic Parisian women to depict the four seasons. This was never completed as Manet died a year after finishing only the second of the series, Autumn. Le Printemps (Spring) was considered the greatest and final public success of Manet’s Salon de Paris career.

Curious Facts About Manet

Édouard Manet is a pivotal character in the history of art especially in the dawn of Modernism. Regardless of his refusal to be associated with the Impressionists, he will always be the spark that ignited the Impressionist movement. Now that we’ve learned a general overview of his life let’s explore some Éduoard Manet facts that you probably didn’t know.

#1 Édouard Manet afforded to live in luxury thanks to his family’s wealth

We already established above that Manet’s parents were both descendants of an aristocratic lineage. Having said that, the Manets did own extensive property in the village of Gennevilliers, just outside Paris, today considered a suburb of Paris. Manet’s grandfather was the mayor of this town and the income from this property guaranteed that Manet and his whole family remained living in extreme comfort even if both Éduoard Manet and his brother Eugene were full-time artists.

Manet paintings - Impressionist paintings
The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, (1874) by Éduoard Manet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. commons.wikimedia.org Manet vacationed at his family’s house in Gennevilliers, just across the Seine from Monet at Argenteuil.

#2 Éduoard Manet at first hated Claude Monet because people confused their names.

Manet belonged to the Impressionism art movement—though he was balancing both Realism and Impressionism at the same time and mostly resisted involvement with the Impressionist—still he influenced the Impressionists. The group considered him to be their leader and without Manet’s Alla prima technique, the Impressionists wouldn’t have painted fast enough to capture the shifting effects of light. Claude Monet claimed in a later interview that Éduoard Manet at first hated him because people confused their names. Manet painted Monet’s family in one of his visits in 1874.

Monet in His Floating Studio - Manet paintings - Impressionist paintings
Monet in His Floating Studio. (1874) by Édouard Manet commons.wikimedia.org

#3 The Degas Painting of the Manets

Édouard Manet became lifelong friends with Edgar Degas after meeting at the Louvre in 1862. In 1868, Degas painted a portrait of the Manets in their sitting room with Manet reclining on a sofa and Suzanne Leenhoff seated at a piano. The curiosity here is that this painting was said to be slashed from top to bottom right through the likeness of Suzanne Leenhoff. Manet slashed the painting for some unknown reason. When Degas saw what had been done to his piece, he demanded to have it back with the intention of repainting Leenhoff’s likeness.

M. and Mme Édouard Manet. (1868) by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas. Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Where are the famous Manet paintings displayed?

Édouard Manet paintings are scattered all over private collections and major museums worldwide. Are you wondering where to find some of the most notable ones?

Music in the Tuileries, 1862

Music in the Tuileries - Manet paintings - Impressionist paintings
Music in the Tuileries, (1862) Oil on canvas by Édouard Manet – National Gallery, London, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Manet may have shocked the public with his choice of subjects—gypsies, street entertainers, prostitutes—however he also delights in painting his well off friends. Manet paintings in history also tend to feature Parisian leisure and luxury. In Music in the Tuileries, Manet painted the Parisian cultural elite with some recognisable personalities. Music in the Tuileries is currently housed at the National Gallery in London.

The Luncheon on the Grass, 1863

The Luncheon on the Grass – Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, (1863) by Édouard Manet, Oil on canvas. Public Domain, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Commons.wikimedia.org

One of the most controversial of the Manet paintings, The Luncheon on the Grass, is currently housed in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Manet’s juxtaposition for the piece The Luncheon on the Grass of fully dressed men and a nude woman was controversial and rejected by the Salon de Paris in 1863 but was later showcased at the Salon des Refusés, a simultaneous exhibition meant to display the numerous pieces that didn’t make the cut for that year’s Salon exhibition.

In the Conservatory, 1879

In the Conservatory, (1879), by Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas. Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

One of the latest Manet paintings is this beautiful In the Conservatory piece completed in 1879. Initially purchased by celebrated French operatic baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure from Manet himself for 11,000 francs, it was then acquired by Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin in 1896 and is considered to be the first museum-bought Manet piece in history, and still housed there to this day.

If you enjoyed this feature, check out our piece on Claude Monet: Famous Claude Monet Paintings and Curious Facts About His Life and Career. Which Manet fact is your favourite? Did you have some ‘Aha!’ moments reading this article? Share your thoughts below! We’d love to see your comments.

Ardak Kassenova, ZenART Supplies co-founder, @ardak_zenart

Ardak Kassenova is a London based contemporary artist, co-founder and creative director of ZenART Supplies. Her visual style—contemporary impressionism—share similar aesthetic qualities with those by the French Impressionists. After 20 years of a successful corporate career, becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, and with the continuous development of her practice by taking private lessons from the best artists she could find; Ardak decided it’s time to align her life with her true passion, Art. Driven by this passion and her corporate leadership background, she co-founded ZenART.

My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I was dreaming to be an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I’ve been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums.” 

Read more about Ardak Kassenova in this feature. Say hello to @ardak_zenart on Instagram!