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... reached its peak in the uproar over Olympia at the 1865 Salon and indeed threatened to get out of hand. Degas, only two years his junior, had yet to show anything like the same originality, and at the 1865 Salon exhibited a hopelessly dull, hopelessly conventional historical painting entitled The Evils befalling the City of Orleans. The fact remains that there is richness in Degas personality that Manet's lacks. A gentleman painter, a man about town, Manet only skimmed the surface of some of the more vital things of life.
The portraits and photographs we have of him fail to excite our interest. The things he had to say -- as recorded by Antonin Proust and by Baudelaire in La Code -- amount to little more than small talk, lit up now and then by a flash of wit or plain common sense. Behind the facade of well-mannered self-assurance, then, we glimpse a man vulnerable, temperamental, and impulsive. But this instability is quite in keeping with the impersonal character of the one venture, the one risk, to which he exposed himself. In fact there is something impersonal and aloof about Manet's entire life.
A little superficial perhaps, but driven on by inner forces that gave him no rest, Manet was possessed by a desire for something beyond his reach which he never fully understood and which left him for ever tantalized and unsatisfied, on the brink of nervous exhaustion. (Rewald) By the time Manet came on the scene, in the mid- 19 th century, the foundations of a whole world had largely crumbled away; an era had come to a close and modern times lay ahead. Hitherto art had been the appanage of kings and princes; its mission had been to express an inordinate, unexceptionable majesty which, tyrannically, unified men. But of the majestic nothing remained that an artisan could take any pride in serving. From now on the men of letters, the sculptors, the painters who had once been artisans were artists and had nothing else but their own personality to express; they were their own masters, their own sovereign. In the confusion brought on by an almost overnight emancipation Manet appears as the symbol of all the conflicting inclinations a free man is torn between. In retrospect the actions of his life resemble the spinning of a compass needle thrown out of kilter.
Those who came after him were free to choose. Manet had no choice but to make a clean break with the old order. He had strength enough to turn his back upon the past, but in doing so he somehow lost confidence in himself, failed to grasp the real trend of events, and let himself be entirely unstrung by the jeers of the public. We can hardly blame him for floundering a little at first. Later, too late perhaps, he tried to follow in the wake of Impressionism, but Impressionism was a pale affair beside that whirl of possibilities which, one after another, had danced through his imagination, only to leave him perplexed.
For Manet, romanticism set out to be provocative, while the parallel impact of Baudelaire's childish distress and childish joys was calculated to shock. Manet could have done as much, but a sustained effort in this direction wore him out and left him to suffer the inevitable rebuff in painful silence. What he yearned for was encouragement, official success. From Impressionism, insofar as it began with Manet, up to Surrealism, by way of Fauvism and Cubism, a violent upheaval occurred; painting was racked by a prolonged fever, punctuated by periodic outbursts of public indignation. No one can claim to define them precisely, but these various movements, it seems to me, were only successive phases of one vast change.
This change was not the transition from one well-defined state to another. After all, the distance separating Meissonier (whom Delacroix admired) from Olympia is no less vast than that separating Meissonier from Picasso. It is the same distance; the only difference is that after Manet it was more and more forcibly stressed -- and by an impressive array of very great painters. In the past twenty or twenty-five years, however, no one has come up with a new way of stressing it. Judged solely in terms of the vibration of color on canvas, Manet is not the greatest painter of his day. Both Delacroix and Courbet have a breadth and an easy, all-embracing power which he lacks, while Corot too had a deeper grasp of simple, elusive truths.
Manet's manner, less sure of itself, proceeds from a more aggressive and less wholesome impulsion. Manet sows the seeds of unrest and has no wish to satisfy; he deliberately sets out to baffle and disturb. He is unwilling to concede what has always been taken for granted: that the picture is meant to represent something. His art is an extension of that of his elders, but with him exasperation enters into the act of painting, a fever comes over him that sets him groping for the fluke or the random effect that widens or overshoots the usual limits of the picture. Manet's virtuosity has its ties with that of French painting in his time, which was rich in possibilities and avid of new values; but his was distinguished by oblique forays into the unknown and abrupt violations of accepted values.
His emphatic use of flat colors and the outright suppression of intermediate shadings, though without any intrinsic significance, were necessary innovations that cleared the air; they extricated painting from the quagmire of rhetoric in which it had long been bogged down and tided it over till such time as the subject expected of the painter had ceased to be anything but an unexpected, an unforeseeable sensation, a pure, high-pitched vibration to which no particular meaning could be assigned. Above all else paintings were formerly required to have finish, and this it was that consecrated the value inherent in the subject of the picture. Manet, however, found that he could get finer effects in the sketch of a picture than in a highly finished work. Such effects thereupon became, as Lionello Venturi puts it, a kind of finite of the non-finite, something of far more meaning and consequence than the most minutely wrought canvas. (Janson) Speaking of Manet, Mallarme declared that it made no difference whether one of his works were entirely finished or not, there being a harmony amongst all its elements by virtue of which it holds together and possesses a charm easily broken by the addition of a single brushstroke. (Janson) Edouard Manet created his piece The Railway in 1873.
Manet used many different contrasting features in his work. We can see that Manet was intrigued by feminine fashion (as Baudelaire had pointed out, was the opposite kind of beauty from the classical and eternal -- hence it was a modern beauty and Manet was the beginner of modern painting, beginner of Impressionism. Looking at spare canvases of Manet's paintings, one may meditate on the relation of Manet's still lives to the cultural standards of his time. In a sense, they comprise a powerful visual critique of the clutter, obvious consumption and pretension of Second Empire decor and its nouveau riche ideas of sumptuousness. Manet's debut as a painter met with a resistance that did not decrease until near the end of his career. The success of his memorial exhibition and the critical acceptance of the Impressionism -- with which he was loosely affiliated, created his unique profile by the end of the 19 th century.
Only in the 20 th century Manet's reputation was secured by art critics. Manet's disregard for traditional modeling and perspective made a critical break with academic paintings historical emphasis on illusionism. Manet in his paintings showed totally new approach. Manet can be considered the founder of modern painting. Manet's flaunting of tradition and the official art establishment smooth the way for the revolutionary work of the impressionists.
Manet primarily influenced the path of 19 th- and 20 th-century art through his special choice of subject matter. Manet focused on modern, urban subjects (The Railroad is a perfect example) -- which he presented in a straightforward manner that distinguished him still more from the standards of the Salon, that generally favored narrative and avoided the gritty realities of everyday life. Manet's daring, persistent approach to his painting and to the art world guaranteed both him and his masterpieces essential place in the history of modern art. What counts in Manet's canvases is not the subject, but the vibration of light.
The role of light in his art is more complex than is implied either by Malrauxs analysis of Manet or by those who see the apotheosis of light in the impressionist technique. (Sandblad) To break up the subject and re-establish it on a different basis is not to neglect the subject; so it is in a sacrifice, which takes liberties with the victim and even kills it, but cannot be said to neglect it. After all, the subject in Manet's pictures is not so much killed as simply overshot, outdistanced; not so much obliterated in the interests of pure painting as transfigured by the stark purity of that painting. A whole world of pictorial research is contained in the singularity of his subjects. Does Manet lie at the origin of Impressionism? Possibly, but all the same his painting arose out of depths of which Impressionism had no inkling.
No painter more heavily invested the subject, not with meaning, but with that which goes beyond and is more significant than meaning. By reason of his early death Manet left a relatively small number of paintings behind him, but such is their variety that it is no easy matter to grasp their general pattern or describe them in a few words. All that emerges is that personal touch by which, at a single glance, we recognize a Manet, just as we recognize, for example, a Cezanne or a Seurat. But the extreme diversity of his work virtually belies that personal touch which, in a manner of speaking, sums up Manet in our minds. And even if not quite belying it, that diversity literally invalidates it, for it is the aftermath of the artists original uncertainty as to the exact nature of his future canvases or of his work as a whole, so perfectly rounded off in retrospect by the death of the painter himself. Edouard Manet is one of the most intriguing masters of Nineteenth century art.
His unique style and technique mark him as an innovative painter, and indeed, Manet is often hailed as one of first truly modern artists. The paintings of Manet's time offered visions of female beauty; women were idealized and unreal, often depicted as goddesses, nymphs or other mythological figures. But Manet's pictures were too close to reality. Being an extremely talented person Manet managed to combine the beauty of colors and style with the rebelling subjects of his time. Art historians have tried to define Manet by associating his works with various Nineteenth century movements, including Realism, Impressionism, and even Symbolism. But it is clear that Manet went beyond these art movements and created his own personal style of painting.
He was the one who put invaluable contribution into the world collection of masterpieces. Bibliography: Hamilton, G. H. Manet and His Critics, New Haven, 1954.
Janson, H. W. Monuments of the History of Art: A Visual Survey, Prentice-Hall, 1959. Rewald, John.
The History of Impressionism, Museum of Modern Art, 1961. Sandblad, N. G. Manet, Three Studies in Artistic Conception, Lund, 1954. Use, Wilhelm. The Impressionists.
Ludwig Goldscheider, The Phaidon Press, 1937.
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