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Nude paintings by Edouard Manet



oil painting of edouard manet by fantin-latour.

Left, A portrait of Manet by
Fantin-Latour, 1867.


Manet was born in Paris 23rd January 1832 into a middle-class family, the son of a civil servant who worked for the Ministry of Justice. Edouard didn’t enjoy school and had no interest in following in his father’s footsteps – into law. This provoked a huge argument between father and son and, as a compromise, Edouard opted for the navy. But after six months this career didn’t appeal to Edouard either, and so his father relented and he was allowed to enrol in the studio of the figurative painter Thomas Couture. He showed great promise from the start but rejected the then academic way of painting. Once he was given a plaster cast from which to copy. He drew it upside down – explaining… “it was more interesting that way.” Further stating: “You’ve got to belong to your own period and paint what you see”. Manet was very much a product of the Parisian middle-class, from the way he dressed to his charming manner – as this portrait of him clearly states. Like many of the Parisian middle class, he succumbed to having an illicit affair. Manet's affair was with his 20 year-old piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch girl, with whom he had a child. This fact was kept a secret from society, including his own father. Though Manet and Suzanne later married, she passed off their son as her brother, with Manet claiming to be the boy’s godfather.

painting by edouard manet: the absinthe drinker.




Painting right: "The Absinthe Drinker," painted in 1859, rejected
by the Official Salon


MANET THE ARTIST

Despite his middle-class, Manet was seen – in artistic terms – as a revolutionary. His subjects were wide ranging, from nudes, landscapes through to flowers. Though considered a revolutionary, Manet was keen to be accepted by the Official Salon. In 1859 he submitted his first painting to the Salon, and he had high hopes that it would be accepted. It wasn’t. The painting, titled “The Absinthe Drinker”. (see the painting to the right). The painting was of a drunken rag and bone man and was criticized partly for its “…uncompromising naturalism….” The judges at the Official Salon would not accept paintings that depicted the seamier sides of life. Yet it was the streets of Paris that often gave Manet his inspiration. The following painting was a landmark in the history of art: “The Luncheon on the Grass,” 1863. This painting shocked the Paris critics. As can be seen, the figures, those of the two men, clearly dress of that time. Paintings of nudes were only acceptable if they were set in a historical setting, or portraying a scene from Greek mythology.




Below: Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass", 1863. This painting
was exhibited at the Salon of the
Refuses and was severly criticised.


nude painting of woman in the landscape, edouard manet's Luncheon on the Grass
THE CONTROVERSAL PAINTINGS


Left: The following painting was a landmark in the history of art: “The Luncheon on the Grass,” 1863. This painting shocked the Paris critics. As can be seen, the figures, those of the two men, clearly dress of that time. Paintings of nudes were only acceptable if they were set in a historical setting, or portraying a scene from Greek mythology. In 1863 the painting was submitted to the Salon, and rejected. Manet then exhibited it at the Salon des Refuses, this was set-up on the instructions of Napoleon 111 as a sop to the rejected artists of the Official Salon. But the painting did not escape the public's ridicule. They saw the naked woman as provocative, especially given that she was sitting with fully clothed men who were dressed in modern clothes. It should be noted that Manet had expected a hostile reaction to this painting. There is undoubtedly a licentious atmospher to the scene where a woman's clothes are discarded, and also the presence of a spilt fruit basket. Above all, the viewer is confronted by the steady gaze of the naked woman.

OLYMPIA In 1865 the Salon accepted another of his controversial paintings, titled “Olympia”. Once again the public was outraged at its content. The very title was uncompromising, for Olympia at that time was just another word for “prostitute”. Clearly this naked woman was a prostitute; what’s more she was looking back at the viewer unashamedly and without embarrassment. They clearly saw the artists adeliberately trying to outrage “good taste”. Manet considered this painting to be his greatest work, but critics saw it otherwise, and one critic wrote that: “…Art sunk so low does not even deserve reproach”. It was the blatant sexuality that so outraged the public. This response took Manet by surprise and he wrote to a friend “…Insults are pouring down on me as thick as nails.” Given this onslaught, Manet didn’t stay in Paris, but fled to Spain for a while




THE RECLINING NUDE Olympia is one of the most important paintings of the reclining female nude, a subject that became popular from Renascence times – See Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (below left) One can immediately see how Manet was inspired by seeing this painting. Manet, when in Italy in 1853, made a copy of Titian’s painting. The pose is virtually the same. Other painters have been influenced by Titian’s painting, including Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920).


Below: "Olympia", painted 1863painting of a female nude on a bed, painting titled Venus of Urbino, by Titian painting of a female nude on a bed, painting titled Olympia, by Manet
In 1865 the Salon accepted another of his controversial paintings, titled “Olympia”. Once again the public was outraged at its content. The very title was uncompromising, for Olympia at that time was just another word for “prostitute”. Clearly this naked woman was a prostitute; what’s more - as in the previous painting "Luncheon on the Grass" - she was looking back at the viewer unashamedly and without embarrassment. They clearly saw the artists as deliberately trying to outrage “good taste”. Manet considered this painting to be his greatest work, but critics saw it otherwise, and one critic wrote that: “…Art sunk so low does not even deserve reproach”. It was the blatant sexuality that so outraged the public. This response took Manet by surprise and he wrote to a friend “…Insults are pouring down on me as thick as nails.” Given this onslaught, Manet didn’t stay in Paris, but fled to Spain for a while. As to the model who posed for him in the painting (also in Luncheon on the Grass) her name was Victorine Meurent, a professional model. She was herself an amateur artist and would later in life take up the subject but enjoyed only moderate success. She actually had a painting accepted by the Salon. Later she fell into poverty and died an alcoholic. What also led to the public outrage of the painting was the clear iconography within it: For example, the maid, and she’s black, is bringing to her a bouquet of flowers – a gift from one of her clients? Flowers in a painting were often interpreted as a token of love. And the inclusion of a red orchid in her hair was intended to suppose aphrodisiac powers.

painting of a female standing behind a bar, painting titled A BAR AT THE FOLIES-BERGERE


Right: "A BAR AT THE FOLIES-BERGERE" 1882 This was Manet’s last great painting, set in the famous Paris nightclub of the time. The model was in fact a barmaid by the name of Suzon. As in his other controversial paintings, we aren’t quite sure what is intended. By moving the barmaid’s reflection he made a double portrait, with perhaps himself reflected in the mirror standing before her. She is clearly in a world of her own, as if not aware of the man before her.


MANET’S EARLY DEATH
Manet suffered from ill health from an early age, apparently as a result of contracting syphilis, not an uncommon ailment in those days. And there’s no doubt that this impeded his ability to work Yet, despite the outrages of the public and critics, Manet, before he died, was awarded the Legion of Honour for his art. At the age of only 51 Manet’s health deteriorated and in a bid to save his life his left leg, infected with gangrene, was amputated but it was too late. He died on April 30th 1883.


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Renoir's nude paintings    |    Walter Sickert's nudepaintings    |    Lucian Freud's nude paitnings    |    John Singer Sargent's paintings    |    Titian's nude paitnings