Passport to Paris Artist Profile: Édouard Manet

Passport to Paris Artist Profile: Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet primarily worked in Paris, where he painted café singers, horse races, outdoor social gatherings, and other scenes of modern urban life. “We are not in Rome and we don’t want to go there,” he said, expressing his concern that artists should paint contemporary life as they knew it, instead of following the tradition of copying Italian Old Master paintings. “We are in Paris, let’s stay here.” He did occasionally travel to Spain and the Netherlands to study other artists’ work, and to the coasts of France, where he painted The Beach at Berck.

Key piece to look for: The Beach at Berck, 1873.

Manet is best known for his paintings of contemporary Parisian life that exhibit his flattened depiction of space and high contrast between light and dark tones. Although he received academic training, he grew impatient with conventional approaches to art because he believed that “one must paint what one sees”—scenes from the artist’s own life, rather than mythological scenes of the past. Even his paintings that drew upon historical subject matter or were inspired by the Old Masters displayed an ironic play on tradition, flattened space, isolation between figures, and a lack of intermediate values. Paintings from his later career continued to reflect these techniques, but became increasingly sketchy and light in tone (as seen in The Beach at Berck). These effects, as well as his focus on contemporary life, paved the way for the impressionists, though he never exhibited with them.

Image credit: Édouard Manet, The Beach at Berck, 1873. oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 37 x 4 in. Wadsworth Atheneum; The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund.

Laura Barton is an intern in the Denver Art Museum's education department. Her favorite artwork on view right now is Louis Anquetin's Avenue de Clichy (Street-Five O'clock in the Evening).