EDOUARD MANET: Painting the Non-traditional Subjects

Édouard Manet - Jeanne (Spring)
Jeanne (Spring) Édouard Manet 
Getty Center, in Los AngelesCalifornia,

Édouard Manet, a French impressionist painter (1832-1883), was the artist who painted modern-life subjects in the nineteenth century. Manet played a greater role in the movement of art, too. He helped the transition from the realism movement of paintings to impressionism.  He was one of the frequent travellers of the European countries for artistic purpose. But his work was generously inspired by the Dutch and Spanish painters. We can see these masters’ influence in Manet’s work. 

Look at the painting Jeanne (Spring)This painting was sold at  $65.1 million. If the price is adjusted at the price level of 2019, it would come to $70.3 million. It was oil on canvas, size of the original painting 74cm x 51.5cm. We can see that there were several versions of this painting or the paintings done on this theme by other artists, too. Manet's pool of inspiration was the Spanish paintings of the seventeenth century. Painters like Frans Hals, Goya and Velasquez were among those who stirred the artist in Manet.  

The Absinthe Drinker  Édouard Manet
Oil on canvas Ny Carlsberg 
Glyptotek Copenhagen Denmark

It was the year 1859 when the Colorado Gold Rush was started in Nebraska (USA), Manet had made his first submission to The Salon.  He exhibited his painting, "The absinthe drinker", there. Ironically enough, his work had faced initial rejections by the traditional artists and the viewers. It was because of the choice of his subjects for painting. 

Manet had painted the marginal and socially discredited people in his paintings. Here in The absinthe drinkerhe had depicted the negative effect of urbanization. The man with a glass of wine looks like a habitual drunkard

Manet's subjects were carving out a new brand in the art circle. And Manet became the pioneer of this newly found basket of the subjects. Thus in addition to becoming an impressionist painter, Manet had put forward an aggressive argument against those who opposed painting the subjects portraying common people’s life.  

The Reading  Édouard Manet
Oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay, Paris

THE ARTIST: If we observe Manet’s paintings with keen eyes, we realize that he had found out his mode of creation during the early stage of his career. 

Look at the painting The Reading (La Lecture). It is a portrait of Suzanne Manet and her son Leon Leenhoff.  The painting symbolises urban life. The painting symbolises how Manet used the strength of the colours and the technique of brushwork. He maintained the traditional pictorial configuration for depicting his imagination, and he used his talents in depicting contemporary reality.  

At the peak of his rebellion, too, he was an artist following the convention. He was an impressionist painter. He had the soul of a realist painter. So his artworks are a rare combination of the traditional style prevalent in his time. He also honoured the expression of reality. This painting The Reading is an example of the impressionist brush strokes and the convention.  

Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil,  Édouard Manet
Oil on canvas Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Paintings Analysed: Look at the painting Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil. Manet was always exploring the hues and tonal values of cool colours. I have read the famous words written by C. S. Lewis, a British novelist. He wrote: “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”   Whenever I see the paintings, especially the paintings by Edouardo Manet, I feel the same thing about his artwork: his choice of subjects were aesthetic. 

In this painting Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil, Manet displayed his impressionist style of painting. Look at the bold brush-strokes. Look at the time, mostly the noontime, when the artist Manet laboured to capture the effect of the bright light. He had manner in to remain faithful to the artistic causes. Artists are supposed to carry with them this luggage. We can say that “it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become”. Art, all sort of artistic performances, may it be painting or music, has an embedded meaning in it. 

The eye-catching aspect of this painting is that Manet has made a strong attempt to record the visual reality of the river Seine in the day time. He has succeeded in transferring the transient effects of light and colour on canvas. He had masterly recreated the reality of the moment depicted through the hues and tones of the colours he laid on canvas. 

Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières) 
Vincent van Gogh Art Institute of Chicago USA

THE ART: In the above painting Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil, we can clearly visualize two major aspects, so far as the art of painting is concerned. One is the immediacy of the subject. The roaring water, and the lady standing on the bank enjoying the environment. It makes the painting lively. Another important aspect is the slight narrowing of the strokes as the artist approach the horizon. This was the hallmark of the impressionist artists' painting. In this painting, 

Manet mainly used horizontal strokes of blue and green paint for depicting water flowing in the river Seine; the river that flows through the city of Paris. Look at the above painting Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières) painted by Van Gogh. The impressionist artists had painted the river The Seine in her every mood.

Look at the painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere. Manet received his due respect when his painting at the fag end of his life. His painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere was displaced in Saloon in the year 1998. Due to illness, he was forced to work slowly on this masterpiece painting that is set in the famous Paris night-club. 

Manet received his due respect when his painting at the fag end of his life. His painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere was displaced in Saloon in the year 1998. Due to illness, he was forced to work slowly on this masterpiece painting that is set in the famous Paris night-club. 

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere1882  by Édouard Manet
Oil on canvas  Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Parisians have been always known for their sharpened desire to live life in full. The consuming of wine was one of the means they do so. Thus the nightclubs and bar were the places populated by rich and neo-rich people Parisians. Manet had depicted this trend in many of his paintings.   

Cafe scenes, social activities, active urban life, and above all the depiction of the beauty of women: these were the subjects that occupied Manet's canvases. Here in the above painting, the model is Suzanne Leenholf. She was believed to be Manet's mistress for a long period. In the later years, they had married. Keeping the main figure in the centre of the canvas, Manet has added major attraction to this artwork.  

The yellow colour peeping from beneath the light red adds much amount of aesthetic fervour to the painting. Hair strands resting on the back of the woman acts highlighting the artists' skill of portrait painting. When I had seen the painting The Lunch on the Grass Le Bain or The Bath, I do not remember whether I was shocked like the Parisians had been while seeing this painting by Manet.  That painting was a statement of declaration of freedom by an artist. But the viewers as well as the critics of art were shocked. In this painting, too, Suzanne Leenhoff had modelled for the woman sitting. She was Edouard Claude Manet’s wife.                           

In most of his portrait paintings, Edouard Manet had concentrated on the eyes; may it be the portrait of Berthe Morisot or L'Inconnue or others' paintings, he had positioned the model's eyes adding much value to the meaning of paintings, making them more aesthetic. Manet played a greater role in the movement of art. He helped the transition from the realism movement of paintings to impressionism.

Dutch painter Frans Hals, Spanish artists Diego Velázquez, and Francisco José de Goya: these were the master artist which influenced Manet's art and style of painting. When he opened his studio in the year 1856, it was a period of realism; it was the era of loose brush strokes, simplification of details, and the suppression of transitional tones.  

He had followed the trend for a time until he acquired his style of painting. May it is the portrait of Berthe Morisot or L'Inconnue, Manet had used the positioning of the eyes of the female model very crucially, adding value to the painting. In this painting of Suzanne Leenhoff, the artist had painted a straight look involving the attention of the viewers directly to the focal point. [All the images are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]


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