The Story of French Impressionism, Part III: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was born into a lower middle-class family in France. His father was a tailor and his mother worked as a seamstress. At a young age he wanted to be a singer, however due to his family’s financial concerns, he went to work in a porcelain factory until a new mechanized procedure was developed in the factory. The factory went bankrupt so Renoir went to attend art school, working to paint fans and signs as decorative art to pay his bills while in school.

Self-Portrait (1875)

He studied under Charles Geyre with new friends: Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. Through Monet, his roommate for a spell, Renoir was connected to other notable artists, such as Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Together they began experimenting with painting en plein-air outside, and like Monet, Renoir was penniless through his early career, despite generous support from Jules Le Cœur and family, a fellow artist. Unlike Monet, Renoir’s early works found favorable audiences at the Salon. His first successes include the following:

Image result for la esmeralda renoirLa Esmerelda (1864), based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame that was featured in the Salon, a first for Renoir. He later destroyed the painting -above is a copy.

File:Pierre-Auguste Renoir - William Sisley.jpgWilliam Sisley (1865) – a commissioned portrait of his friend and fellow artist, Alfred Sisley’s wealthy father.

Lise with a Parasol or just simply Lise (1867)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 020.jpg
Diana (1867)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Summertime.jpg
In Summer (1868)

These latter three paintings feature Lise Tréhot as the female figure, Renoir’s mistress and model for many of his early paintings. The painting Lise won acclaim at the Salon. In total, she appeared in more than twenty of Renoir’s early paintings, several of them in the nude. Renoir fathered a child out of wedlock with Lise in 1870, however the child was given away to a wet-nurse. Renoir never acknowledged his daughter, Jeanne, as his child, but he did secretly financially support her all of his life. Little is known about the relationship between Renoir and Lise, however they separated in 1872 and it was said that Lise never spoke to Renoir again. She eventually married and raised several children.

In 1870, Renoir was drafted to serve in the military for the Franco-Prussian War, however illness soon sent him back home. In 1874, Renoir was part of the first Impressionist exhibit. He exhibited many of his early great works, however in order to remain financially stable, Renoir started painting portraits upon commission to survive.

Pont-Neuf (1872)

Claude Monet painting in his garden at Arganteuil (1873)

The Grand Boulevards (1875)

This painting uniquely displays an out of focus street in Paris, around the time that the boulevards were widened. The street is filled with activity, shortly the effects of industrialization take hold.

Auguste Renoir - Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Musée d'Orsay RF 2739 (derivative work - AutoContrast edit in LCH space).jpgBal du moulin de la Galette “Dance at Le moulin de la Galette” (1876)

The painting portrays an evening out for working class people in Paris, filled with dancing, drinking, and eating. Note the lighting of the sunset through the trees as it appears on the party-goers. We can almost hear and see (peripherally) the sounds and motion of the people in the crowd when viewing this painting. The painting is currently held by a private and anonymous collector. It is currently on the list as one of the most expensive paintings ever sold ($78M in 1990). Prior to that it was owned by the wealthy and well-connected American, John Whitney, whose widow sold it to a wealthy Japanese manufacturer who professed at one point a desire to burn the painting, luckily financial troubles caused him to sell it in 1990.

The Swing (1876)

Image result for Madame Charpentier and her ChildrenMadame Charpentier and Her Children (1878) – this was Renoir’s first big breakthrough

By the late 1870s and 1880s, he had secured a name for himself. This new financial security allowed him to travel to Algeria, as well as Italy and throughout France, to meet the great European artists of the day. While in Algeria he contracted pneumonia which permanently damaged his respiratory system.

Portrait of Alphonsine Fournaise (1879)

Boating on the Seine (1879)

By The Water (1880)

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste - The Two Sisters, On the Terrace.jpg
The Two Sisters, on the Terrace (1881) – note the elder sister was actually a young French actress and the younger is unknown. The two were not related.

Le déjeuner des canotiers “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (1880–1881)

This painting was showcased at the Impressionist exhibit in 1878, and won great acclaim. It featured a variety of Renoir’s friends and patrons enjoying themselves at a high-class restaurant which had recently opened its doors to all groups of people, a novelty in the 19th century. A still-life of fruit and wine sits on the table. The French art patron Gustave Caillebott is seated in the lower right, and Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife, is playing with a dog in the foreground on the left (Renoir replaced a different woman who was annoying him with Aline in the painting). A panoply of other art historians, painters, and patrons are depicted in the painting. Note the casual attire of the people in the painting. It is a masterpiece of the Impressionist era, one of Renoir’s best. Duncan Phillips, the grandson of an American banking and steel family, was obsessed with acquiring the painting and in 1923, he purchased it, in an effort to build his collection of modern art. Today it remains the most popular work in his foundation’s collection – The Phillips Collection – in Washington DC. The location of the activity in the painting is the The Maison Fournaise in Chatou west of Paris along the Seine. Renoir also completed an earlier painting at this location below:

Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (1879)

Children at the Beach at Guernsey (1883)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French - The Large Bathers - Google Art Project.jpg
The Large Bathers (1884-1887)

Renoir spent three years completing this painting, studying various sketches and pieces of architecture. His hope was to harmonize the classical modes of painting, like Raphael, with the new Impressionist. Notice the sculpted, classical style of the nude women in the painting (one is Renoir’s future wife, Aline), and contrast those sharp characteristics with the blurred, shiny Impressionistic background. Two women bathe in the background, while the action occurs in the foreground, where one woman reaches to splash the other two from the river, one preparing to shield herself, the other covering herself with a towel.

Renoir grew disillusioned with Impressionism over time, and as such his style evolved, though his work always remained lush, indulgent, and voluptuous.

Dance at Bougival (1883)

Tamaris, France (1885)

The Farm at Collettes (1908-1914)

In 1890, Renoir married Aline Charigot, one of his models and a dressmaker who was twenty years his junior. Like Monet, Renoir had a child out of wedlock with Aline named Pierre (born in 1885), who later became a notable stage and film actor. They had two other children together: Jean Renoir, the great film director, and Claude Renoir who also became an artist of ceramics.

Self-Portrait (1910)

By 1892, Renoir was stricken with arthritis which severely limited his mobility. Yet he continued to paint, and was at one point quoted as saying: “The pain passes, but beauty persists.” He moved to a warmer Mediterranean climate along the French Riviera in a town called Cagnes-sur-Mer in southeastern France, where he lived on a luxurious home he had built called “Las Collettes.” He had a stroke in 1912, yet Renoir still continued to paint. His wife, Aline, died in 1915. In 1919, Renoir traveled to the Louvre to see his paintings hung alongside the masters. He died at his home in Cagnes-sur-mer in 1919.  Renoir had completed thousands of paintings in his lifetime.

The Story of French Impressionism, Part II: Claude Monet

A part of the narrative of French Impressionism relies on the exclusiveness of the 18th century Parisian elite – the Académie des Beaux-Arts – the hub of French art culture. The Académie hosted an annual art show, the “Salon de Paris”, which typically showcased preferred political, historical, religious, and mythological works. Winners of these art shows received commissions and prestige among the French aristocracy. They were the gatekeepers of social mores, and therefore in need of a rebellion. From a modern perspective, the history of art is a kind of celebration of rebellion. It is progressive in its praise of the heroes –the rebels who opened up new possibilities, extending the limits of aesthetics, and pushing the advancement of technological boundaries. The Impressionists created the new style of revolution for all later modern artists to aspire to, causing the modern artist not to want to be on the losing side of history, not to side with the ‘establishment.’ Today’s “shock of the new” could become tomorrow’s new revolutionary movement.

In the early 1860s, four young painters, all fans of Manet and his rebellion against the Académie, began venturing into the countryside while studying art together under the tutelage of Charles Geyre. Those men are now household names: Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. Monet shared quarters with Renoir during this period. The group regularly and famously met together at the Café Guerbois in Paris to discuss art, along with many other bohemian figures of the time, and they were frequently joined by their much admired forefather, Manet. 

After being routinely rejected by the establishment, they showcased their works at the Salon des Refusés, created by Emperor Napoleon III in response to the negative public outcry regarding the huge amount of rejections for display at the Salon. The group even formed their own association: the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. However, Manet, their forefather, politely declined to join, as a tenet of membership was to vow never to showcase artworks at the Salon and Manet was still committed to submitting his work to the Salon. 

The group showcased their work for the first time together in 1874. One reviewer derisively wrote about Monet’s Impression, soleil levant as “Impressionism” and he labeled the works as unfinished sketches akin to wallpaper art. The writer thought this was a jab at their avant-garde works, however the name soon took hold and the artists quickly reclaimed it. Thus the movement name “Impressionism” was born.   

Image result for Impression, soleil levantImpression, soleil levant or “Impressionism, Sunrise” (1872) -the painting which gave the name to the Impressionist movement. 

Monet’s works are highly personal, and autobiographical in nature, thus the entire story of Claude Monet’s life can be told through his paintings. This is distinct from earlier works of art which told stories – legends, religious imagery, heroes, national or political triumphs and so on. The modernist movement is personal, subjective, and perspectivist in its approach.  

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was born as Oscar-Claude Monet into a Catholic family, though in adulthood he later became an atheist. His family always called him Oscar, to avoid confusion with his father who was also named Claude. In his artwork he would always be known as Claude Monet (“clode moan-ay”). His father wanted Monet to go into the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to be an artist. In his youth, he made amusing caricatures of friends and neighbors. He also met Eugéne Boudin, a fellow artist who exposed him to the plein-air style of painting outdoors. Though uncontroversial today, most high artwork at the time was fashionably completed indoors, in the safety and controlled atmosphere of a studio. In 1857 at age 16, Monet’s mother died and so he went to Paris to live with his widowed and childless Aunt. He then briefly served in the French army in Algeria, but after about a year he contracted typhoid and returned home. All of his sketches and works from this period, however brief, have tragically been lost. When he came back to Paris, he pursued his artwork thanks to his Aunt, who offered to purchase his exit from the army in exchange for his enlisting in a a celebrated and proper art school. 

In 1872, Monet returned to visit his hometown of Le Havre (Monet was raised outside Paris along the Normandy coast as a child) and he proceeded to paint its harbor in various works. At the time Monet was fleeing his many creditors, as well as any potential enlistment in the Franco-Prussian War. As a result of his growing indebtedness, Monet had even tried to kill himself by hurling himself into the Seine in 1868. On the trip away to Le Havre, Monet most famously Impressionism, sunrise (pictured above). In the foreground are two rowboats, followed by shadowy ship masts and a red sun. Some have suggested that the painting is a metaphor for a new Patriotic France, after the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1872. It was featured at the first Impressionism exhibit in 1874. During the Franco-Prussian War, Monet took his family and left France for England for a spell, before returning to Paris to live in the small village of Argenteuil on the banks of the Seine, Northwest of Paris. It was an old industrial town and the Monet family rented a little home. Here, he continued to paint and perfect his craft. 

        File:Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875, Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 84 x 60.5 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.jpg  Image result for Self Portrait with a Beret (1886) By: Claude Monet
Portrait of Claude Monet (1875) By: Pierre-Auguste Renoir; and Self Portrait with a Beret (1886) By: Claude Monet

Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur (1865)

This early work by Monet showcases a rare glimpse into a variety of influences, including the early influence of Dutch and Flemish paintings. 

Jardin à Sainte-Adresse (1866-1867)

His early paintings more notably demonstrated his lifelong fascination with Japanese art, and in particular with Japanese wood engravings, which later greatly impacted the construction of his famous water lily garden in Giverny. Monet amassed a large collection of Japanese engravings and they remain at his home in Giverny today. 

Consider the similarities in these few examples of Japanese wood engravings from Claude Monet’s personal collection (in total he owned some 231 engravings):


Image result for YAMADA SHOJIROYAMADA SHOJIRO (19th century)

Tsunami by hokusai 19th century.jpg“The Great Wave” (early 1830s) By: Katsushika Hokusai – a copy was found at Monet’s home in Giverny and is certainly the most famous work in his private collection. 

Houses on the Achterzaan MET DT719.jpgHouses on the Achterzaan (1871)

Monet rarely traveled. This painting was completed at the recommendation of a trip to the Netherlands by a fellow painter. It is of the Achterzaan River, or “Zaan” river located in North Holland. 

Camille, or the Woman in a Green Dress (1866)

Monet’s paintings tended to focus on the people and places he knew best, such as his first wife, Camille. In his early years, he lived in squalid poverty, however this painting awarded him his first small financial success when it sold for approximately 800 francs. 

Here are several other Monet paintings featuring Camille and other moments from Monet’s life:

Image result for The Walk, Bazille and Camille (1865)
The Walk, Bazille and Camille (1865)

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1865-1866)

Monet completed his own version of Manet’s classic and controversial nude painting (of the same name “Luncheon on the Grass”), though Monet notably left out the addition of any nudes.  Featured in the painting are his friends: Gustave Courbet, Frédéric Bazille, and Monet’s soon-to-be wife, Camille Doncieux. They later married in 1870. She was his mistress for many years, despite Monet’s family’s disapproval. She even gave birth to their first son, Jean, out of wedlock while Monet went to live with his family to keep up the impression that he had abandoned his pregnant mistress. Monet later secretly returned to Paris to live with his mistress and son in a cold one-room apartment while escaping his creditors. 

Women in the Garden (1866)

A Woman In A Garden (1867)

A fascinating anecdote about this painting is that Camille posed for the various female figures as he painted it over an extended period. The painting was rejected by the Salon for his liberal use of broad brush strokes, and it was purchased by Monet’s friend, Bazille, to help keep Monet financially afloat. 

File:Claude Monet River Scene at Bennecourt, Seine.jpg
River Scene at Bennecourt, Seine (1868)

Springtime (1872)

Apparently, Monet’s second wife, Alice, was extraordinarily jealous with all the memories of Camille everywhere, so she had all pictures and mementos of Camille destroyed. The paintings by Monet and his friends are mostly all that survives of the life of Camille. 

Camille Monet on a Garden Bench, 1873 - Claude MonetCamille Monet on a Garden Bench (1873)

The Garden of Monet at Argenteuil, 1873 - Claude MonetThe Garden of Monet at Argenteuil (1873)

The Artist's House at Argenteuil, 1873 - Claude Monet
The Artist’s House at Argenteuil (1873)

Poppy Field, Argenteuil, 1875 - Claude MonetPoppy Fields near Argenteuil (1875)

The Artist's Family in the Garden, 1875 - Claude MonetThe Artist’s Family in the Garden (1875)

File:Claude Monet Camille au métier.jpg
Camille au métier (1875)

Woman With A Parasol (1875)

This famous painting portrays Monet’s young family on a windy summer day at their home in Argenteuil. 

The Garden, Hollyhocks, 1877 - Claude MonetThe Garden, Hollycocks (1877)

Claude Monet - The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30, 1878 - Google Art Project.jpg
The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30th, 1878 (1878)

Image result for La route de Vétheuil, effet de neige, 1879
La route de Vétheuil, effet de neige (1879)

File:Claude Monet, 1879, Camille sur son lit de mort, oil on canvas, 90 x 68 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.jpgCamille on her Deathbed (1879)

As the story goes, when Camille passed, Monet was right by her side. He quietly shut the door and began to paint her on her deathbed. The result is this haunting and ghostly piece. 

Monet was something of a manic depressive and it hit him deeply when Camille passed. Camille had contracted tuberculosis in 1876, and later uterine cancer (which some conspiracy theorists imply may have been the result of a botched abortion), from which she passed away in 1879 at the age of 32. They had two children together, the second, Michel, being born the year before she died. The first was Jean, born out of wedlock. 

Before Camille’s passing, Monet went to live with friends, Ernest and Alice Horsche. Eventually Ernest moved away and Alice and Monet grew romantically involved. Alice and Ernest never divorced.

File:Monet Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill 1886.jpgTulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill (1886)

In the 1880s, Monet moved with Alice and their respective children a new home he purchased, thanks to recent successes, on 2 acres at Giverny. During this period, his fortunes began to change as his paintings began to sell, and eventually he was able to purchase the home and surrounding lands. He developed a vast garden on and near the property, amassing a collection of books on botany, and he hired up to seven gardeners, delivering daily instructions for how exactly to manicure his gardens. 

Monet was given to studying particular times and places, sometimes at different times of day to capture unique lighting, and other times at different times of year to highlight the changing seasons. 

For example, Monet painted a vast series of haystacks between the late 1880s and mid 1890s. These were completed after he moved to Giverny. They belonged to his neighbor who a was farmer. Here is a sampling of Monet’s haystacks series:

Wheatstacks (End of Summer), 1890-91 (190 Kb); Oil on canvas, 60 x 100 cm (23 5-8 x 39 3-8 in), The Art Institute of Chicago.jpg

Of course, another famous series was Monet’s impressions of the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France. In his later years, he occasionally traveled to capture series pieces, such as the Rouen Cathedral, the London Parliament, and he also captured a notable poplar series. As with the haystacks, there were more than thirty paintings in total in the series of the Rouen Cathedral. Most were painted between 1892-1894.

In 1908, Monet made a rare trip to Italy, not intending to paint. However, he was entranced by Venice and the colors of the city at sunset. Thus one of his famous late paintings emerged (below):

Image result for San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk (1908 – 1912)
San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk (1908 – 1912)

Monet’s final series, and the great occupation for the last twenty years of his life, was documenting his water lily garden at his home in Giverny. The following includes a very small sampling of his work during this period:

Water Lilies and the Japanese Bridge (1897–1899)

Water Lillies (1905)

Nymphéas “Water Lillies” (1915)

In 1918, Monet donated certain pieces of his water lily collection to the French state to celebrate peace with the recent armistice at the close of the First World War.

His second wife Alice died in 1911, along with Monet’s eldest son, Jean, who had married Alice’s daughter, Blanche. Blanche took care of an aging Monet who began to develop cataracts, for which he underwent surgery. In his later years his vision suffered, but he continued to paint using odd colors, particularly mixes of red, which is typical for a person with cataract issues -to experience higher frequencies of the color red. The art world had left him behind, in favor of the new Cubist movement of Picasso. He had descended into depression at the loss of a wife, a child, and his vision. Monet died of lung cancer in 1926. He insisted on a small ceremony, and he was buried at the Giverny Church cemetery where approximately fifty people attended his funeral. His son later bequeathed the famous house and gardens at Giverny to the French Academy of Fine Arts. Today, it has become a major tourist attraction. 

The Story of French Impressionism, Part I: Édouard Manet

In contrast to the bold, triumphant, and defined political works of earlier European painters, like Eugene Delacroix for example, the Impressionists were a more muted, subtle group of less defined painters, at least conventional wisdom instructs us so. The Impressionists give us only a glimpse of something, a passing blurred picture of motion; like a fading sunset over the ocean, people gathering in the park from a distance, couples sitting in a Parisian care, and so on. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that Impressionism is a kind of Hegelian reaction against emerging technologies, like photography, as well as the prevailing artistic establishment, like so-called “realism.” Perhaps to reduce Impressionists to mere reactionary impulses does a disservice to the movement. Perhaps not. Many of the works of Impressionism were accused of being unfinished, incomplete fragments, and as a result the movement garnered a reputation as a kind of iconoclastic movement. The story of Impressionism is the story of rebellion against conventional more, and in that way it is appealing to modern sensibilities -David will always be preferred to Goliath. At the same time, Impressionism appeals to the high class taste for leisure, as well as the low class desire for representation, to be seen and heard, with portrayals of peasants, immigrants, and working people. Uniquely, the Impressionists are also autobiographical. Their paintings tell the painter’s stories. 

Impressionism took hold at a time when painting was re-emerging from its cave. According to the classical tradition, painters piled into studios and hired models to sit for them, but gradually the en plen-air movement took root. In Italy painters like Macchiaioli began painting outside, and in the United States Winslow Homer took their artwork outside and launched a new plein-air painting movement. In France, four young painters who studied classical art together began wandering out into the countryside to paint in their own style. They were inspired, in part, by the light brushstrokes of their forefather, Édouard Manet (1832-1883), the “Father of Modernism.”

Image result for edouard manet 1870 photo(Édouard Manet photographed sometime around 1870)

Manet was born into a wealthy French family, but after rejecting a legal career and twice failing the naval exam, Manet’s father reluctantly allowed him to pursue a career in art. Manet’s early work matched the formulaic style of the time, copying the great works of the Louvre, however he began to turn his focus away from religious and allegorical imagery, to simple depictions of leisurely scenes in everyday life, such as cafes, parks, and so on. As his perspective shifted, he lost admirers from the French establishment, and gained friends among more rebellious corners of Paris, like Charles Baudelaire and Émile Zola, Manet’s strident defender. As such, Manet became friends with the young group of “Impressionists” when he led their now famous group discussions at the Café Guerbois, but he later distanced himself from the group as he preferred to display his works at the Salon, an establishment art showcase. Additionally, Manet preferred the use of black lines and dark colors, which many other Impressionists rejected. Despite being lambasted in the press for his early “shock-pieces”, Manet claimed to have no intention of upending traditional methods of painting. He was married in 1863 to his piano teacher and longtime lover, Suzanne Leenhoff. He continued to paint into later life, making money from his popular still-life pieces, until he suffered from what is likely syphilis. His left foot was amputated as a result, and he died eleven days later in 1883.

Here are some of Édouard Manet’s notable works:

In 1863, he created two highly controversial works that departed from his earlier, more conventional works, based on his classical training and copies of the masters in the Louvre-

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, or “The Luncheon on the Grass” (1863)

Playing on classical motifs and 16th century Italian works by Raphael and Titian, Manet conveys a nude woman. She is scandalously positioned not in a mythological context, but rather in a casual encounter, perhaps a common picnic scenario. She is an ordinary woman in an ordinary situation.In the large-scale “The Luncheon on the Grass” painting, a nude woman sits while having a picnic with two fully clothed men in a dark forest. She has just bathed in the stream. In the background, a semi-nude woman is bathing in a stream. She almost appears as if painted onto a large backdrop. Her size is confusing. A boat sits upstream from her. The painting is a kind of parody of a pastoral scene, with a goddess and a water nymph. Note the lighting distinction in the foreground: the painting gets darker as it gets closer to the viewer, while the nude woman is blindingly bright. A still-life scene of fruit sits beside the nude woman. She stares at the viewer while her two compatriots converse with each other. They seem not be concerned with the two nude women. The scene gives the appearance of being staged, as evidenced by the unusual hat worn by the gentleman on the right, a hat typically worn indoors. The painting is notable for being so large, a size traditionally reserved for classical or religious imagery. It caused a sensational outcry upon its release and today it is likely Manet’s most famous work.

“The Luncheon on the Grass” was rejected for display at the Paris Salon, along with more than half the other works submitted in the year 1863, thus prompting Emperor Napoleon III to create the Salon des Refusés, an alternative Salon for rejected painters to display their work. Manet chose to do so at the ‘Salon of the Refused’.

Olympia (1863)

Again, reframing Titian’s Renaissance work, Manet was challenged to provide the Paris Salon with a nude work. He scandalously chose to convey a confidently posed prostitute, poised as an aristocrat but with a flower in her hair, a bracelet, and sandals (she is wearing one and the other is off). She is relaxed but confident, and clearly posing. She gazes directly at the viewer as if to court the audience, yet she covers her pubic region. She lays upon her white bed with a blanket or robe underneath. She is the modern Venus, a woman you might see walking down the street, but also with the capability to entice. A black servant-maid is interrupting the photographically-staged moment to deliver flowers from an admirer. The flower-delivery is the action of the painting. A black cat rises in the lower right as if suddenly scared. Olympia was a common colloquial name in reference to a prostitute in France. 

Olympia was accepted to the Paris Salon in 1865 amidst great outrage. Not surprising, considering the history of the Salon – a series of scandals for the upper class and fraught with infighting. Crowds came to the Salon merely to gawk and jeer at the Olympia, while it was comically reproduced and lambasted in the press.   

Note the similarities to Titian’s Venus d’Urbino painted between 1532-1534:

Image result for titian venus of urbino
Venus d’Urbino (1532-1534) By: Titian

In this classic renaissance painting we see an erotic Venus archetype reclining on her bed, a dog calmly curled up at her feet. She is nude save for her bracelet. It is sunset. In the background her maid rummages through her trousseau where her wedding dress would have been held. Perhaps she awaits her wedding. In her right hand is a small bouquet of roses. Perhaps she has been unfaithful to her betrothed, as suggested by her erotic pose. The true story of the painting remains mysterious, but it’s name was drawn from the Duchy of Urbino who quickly purchased it from Titian fearing that it would fall into the hands of someone else. Some suggest Manet was responding to a celebration of marriage and traditional femininity in Titian from this painting, while another argument suggests Manet is pointing to the humanizing and secular trends of the Renaissance as his heritage for the Olympia.

At any rate, not many of Manet’s later works rocked the French art establishment in quite the same way that his early pieces did. He developed something of a minor reputation for painting ordinary people, and outsiders, as evidenced below:

The Absinthe Drinker (1859)

The Spanish Singer (1860)

Edouard Manet - The Balcony - Google Art Project.jpgLe Balcon “The Balcony” (1868-1869)

Manet was also keen to paint his close friends. “The Balcony” borrows heavily from Francisco Goya. The setting is an outdoor balcony. It features prominently Berthe Morisot, an Impressionist painter and friend of Manet. She married Manet’s brother and in the painting she sits, silently and heroically looking at the activity below. Morisot was featured in many other Manet paintings. Also featured are Fanny Claus, a violinist who gazes directly at the viewer, and painter Antoine Guillemet. A blurry figure in the background is likely Manet’s son. Also depicted is a small dog and a hydrangea plant. Le Balcon was not particularly well received by the establishment. 

Portrait of Emile Zola (1868)

Emile Zola, the boyhood friend of Cézanne, was also one of the most ardent defenders of Manet in his rebellion against prevailing French aristocratic art sensibilities. He once prophesied that Manet would hang in the Louvre, a true prognostication. In his portrait above, Zola sits with his writing in front of small copies of Manet’s Olympia, along with Velazquez’s Bacchus, as well as some Japanese art – a culture which had a significant influence on the Impressionists.

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1868)

This painting was obviously completed in heavy tribute to Goya’s The Third of May 1808 (1814) as pictured below. Manet’s piece is part of a series of five pieces depicting the second emperor of Mexico when Napoleon’s empire briefly ruled over Mexico. However, he pulled French troops out of Mexico in 1866, and shortly thereafter Mexican opposition forces captured Maximilian and executed him by firing squad. The news shocked French audiences.

El Tres de Mayo, by Francisco de Goya, from Prado thin black margin.jpg
The Third of May 1808 (1814) By: Francisco Goya

Image result for The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (1874)The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (1874)

While Manet and Monet had a rocky relationship early on, with Manet believing Monet had copied his style, they eventually grew to develop a friendship. During the summer of 1874 Manet vacationed at his family’s home in Gennevilliers, across the Seine from Monet at Argenteuil. They spent a great deal of time together and were occasionally joined by Renoir. While Manet was painting this picture of the Monet family in their garden, Renoir arrived and also painted the same scene right beside Manet (pictured below).

Image result for Madame Monet and Her Son (1874) By: Auguste RenoirMadame Monet and Her Son (1874) By: Auguste Renoir


Boating (1874)

Boating was also painted during the summer of 1874 when he spent a great deal of time with Monet and Renoir. The male character may be Manet’s brother-in-law.

The Rue Monsier with Flags (1878)

After the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, the urban streets of Paris were decorated to celebrate the occasion. Notice, a crippled man on crutches hobbling down the rue, followed by a man with a ladder. Perhaps he is placing more French flags above the street. Up ahead are some carriages of wealthy people out for the day, celebrating French patriotism.

Image result for Autoportrait à la palette “Self-Portrait with Palette” (1879)Autoportrait à la palette “Self-Portrait with Palette” (1879)

A late work of Manet, one of two self-portraits. He is notably dressed in fashionable attire, something not typically worn by an artist while painting, and the image is mirrored as Manet was assuredly not left-handed. The painting is inspired by Diego Velázquez’s famous stylized self-portrait.

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.jpgA Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-1882)

Manet’s last major work was this eccentric bar scene, set in a popular nightclub in Paris. It was exhibited at the Salon in 1882. The scene is the Folies-Bergère bar and nightclub in Paris. A real woman, Suzon a bar-maid, is the subject. She stands in the foreground, staring at the viewer, as if to ask: “what would you like?” She seems forlorn and detached. She is a worker amidst a sea of lavish entertainment. She stands in front of a large wall-length mirror behind the bar. A confusing optical illusion takes place as a gentleman in a top hat appears to be talking to her, however he is actually standing to the left of the viewer, gazing straight ahead. Her off-center reflection to the right is jarring to the viewer, confusing our perspective in an already morally ambiguous modern world. In addition, we do not see our reflection in the mirror, or maybe we do not see ourselves in this world, though Manet seems to orient us as consumers. In front of Suzon is a bright bowl of oranges, flowers in a cup, and a variety of alcoholic beverages on a marble countertop. The beverages are all commodities and invite comparison to Suzon -to what extent has she too become a commodity? In the reflected background is a large, blurred crowd of nightclub attendees enjoying a raucous evening. Above them a pair of feet dangle –the feet of an acrobatic trapeze artist dancing over them. Questions abound regarding this obscure painting, and everyone from Michel Foucault to Guy de Maupassant has endeavored to decipher its mysterious code.

Manet’s later life was focused on painting upper echelon female portraits as well as still-life paintings to supply the market demand. His financial security came from his mainly unremarkable still-life pieces, always a popular form of painting, but his reputation was always staked on his high drama, larger than life early pieces. He is sometimes referred to as the bridge between “realism” and “modernism.”