Art History Lab

Unconventional Genius: The Artistic Legacy of douard Manet

Art has always held a special place in human society since ancient times, serving as a conduit for self-expression and communication. From the earliest cave paintings to the most modern art forms, cultural and societal changes are often reflected in art, making it an essential visual record of human history.

One artist that holds a significant place in art history is douard Manet, a French painter who lived from 1832-1883. Manet’s art was groundbreaking in the 19th century, drawing both admiration and controversy.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the life and works of douard Manet, with a particular emphasis on Le Djeuner sur l’herbe, and analyze the contextual background of Manet’s work.

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douard Manet was a French painter renowned for being the first French painter to challenge traditional academic painting with his breakthrough style of depicting reality. Born in Paris in 1832 to a wealthy family, Manet developed an interest in art at an early age.

Despite his father’s misgivings, Manet pursued his passion for art, and in 1856, he met his mentor, the famous painter Thomas Couture. Manet’s early works were informed by the work of Spanish painters such as Diego Velzquez and Frans Hals.

He also drew inspiration from the work of French 18th-century painters such as Antoine Watteau. However, his work did not adhere to any particular movement or style, and he was often criticized by his contemporaries for his unconventional art.

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One interesting aspect of Manet is his life as an artist. Born into an affluent family, Manet lived a comfortable life but experienced a great deal of turmoil early on due to his father’s objections to his artistic pursuits.

Despite his father’s protestations, Manet continued to paint, gaining notoriety as an artist. By the mid-1860s, Manet had become known for his bold, unconventional approach to painting.

One of his most famous works, Le Djeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), painted in 1863, was a groundbreaking piece that caused a huge controversy due to its subject matter and style. Le Djeuner sur l’herbe depicts a naked woman having a picnic with two fully clothed men in a pastoral setting.

The painting was controversial not only because of its subject matter but also because Manet had deviated from traditional academic painting by not following the Renaissance perspective of depth. Subtopic 1.2

Le Djeuner sur l’herbe was not well-received by the French art establishment when it was first exhibited.

The painting was rejected by the prestigious French Academy and was instead shown at the Salon des Refuss (Salon of the Rejected), a new exhibition created in 1863 to showcase work that had been rejected by the Academy. The painting was met with a great deal of criticism, with one French newspaper calling it “filthy.” Despite the controversy, Le Djeuner sur l’herbe still managed to garner praise from certain individuals who recognized its groundbreaking nature.

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Manet’s works were often rooted in contemporaneous cultural and societal changes, which contextualized his painterly style. A deeper examination of Manet’s life shows that he was deeply impacted by the changes surrounding him and felt that art should reflect these changes, making it an essential visual record of human history.

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Manet’s works were informed by the context of the 19th century. During this time, there was a rise in industrialization and urbanization, and art was considered a way to represent these changes.

Manet’s work contrasts with the Romanticism of the earlier period and was a precursor to the modernist movement. Manet’s work was often critical of the French Academy, the art establishment that determined what art was, and what was not acceptable.

His dissatisfaction with the Academy led him to create works that deviated from established norms, advancing new ideas about art that would later be fully embraced by his artistic successors. Subtopic 2.2

The influence of the French Academy on the art world was one of the contextual elements most relevant to Manet’s work.

During the 19th century, the French Academy played a crucial role in defining the artistic norms of the time period. The Academy was notorious for rejecting innovative works, which led to the creation of Salon des Refuss.

Manet’s painting, Olympia, was another work that caused a scandal when it was exhibited. Olympia, like Le Djeuner sur l’herbe, depicted an unconventional subject matter that was at odds with the traditional painting style of the time.

Olympia’s depiction of a naked prostitute, surrounded by luxurious materials, was not well-received by the public or French Academy. In addition to Olympia, Manet’s other works explored themes of sexuality, yet critics initially deemed them as crass and vulgar.


douard Manet was an artist whose works broke new ground in 19th-century France. His artwork was an innovative reflection of the cultural and societal changes of his time and a critique of the French academy.

While his works were initially controversial and often heavily criticized, Manet’s impact can still be seen today. From the groundbreaking, unconventional style of his artwork expanding painting’s bounds to the way he painted everyday subjects – Manet’s legacy will inspire the next generation of artists.

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A formal analysis of douard Manet’s works can help to better understand his subject matter and stylistic approach. Manet often painted real-life scenes and people, focusing on ordinary, everyday moments that were typically overlooked by other artists.

His works often include contrasting elements, such as light and dark, male and female, and historical and contemporary contexts. Manet’s style was characterized by thin, fluid brushstrokes and bold, contrasting colors.

He was not interested in creating highly detailed or realistic images, but rather in capturing the mood and essence of his subjects in his own unique way. Subtopic 3.2

Composition, color, and light were essential elements of Manet’s work.

He often composed his paintings in a flattened manner, abandoning traditional perspectives to an extent, and played with scale to create uncomfortable eye-contact, as seen in Olympia. Manet was also highly skilled at using color and light to create a sense of depth and space in his works, bringing various elements to the foreground and background of the image.

Manet’s use of color and light was particularly impressive in paintings such as The Bar at the Folies-Bergre. The painting’s composition includes a foreground featuring a barmaid and a counter that separates her from the viewer’s gaze.

The use of large mirrors positioned behind her reflects the male patrons on the other side of the counter, creating a sense of depth and space.

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Subtopic 4.1

One of douard Manet’s most famous works, Le Djeuner sur l’Herbe, has been a subject of much analysis and interpretation. The painting features a nude woman lounging on the grass with two fully clothed men.

It is a striking image that shifts the traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, transforming the traditional landscape painting into something more modern and innovative. The subject matter of the painting is often interpreted with ideas of male dominance and female vulnerability, with the nude female becoming an object of pleasure for the clothed male figures.

However, an opposing interpretation arises, with the woman as an embodiment of power and confidence amidst the male gaze. Similarly, the two clothed men can be interpreted with ideologies of the bourgeois vs the bohemian or with traditional ideals vs modern thoughts.

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Manet’s impact on art history and contemporary modern art cannot be understated. His works were influential to many of the later avant-garde art movements, including impressionism, post-impressionism, and cubism.

The bold, unconventional approach that Manet applied to art paved the way for a new approach to art. Rather than following academic traditions, Manet saw art as a medium for personal expression, and his ideas inspired the generations of artists after him.

Manet’s influence can be seen in the works of the Impressionists, who learned to paint outside and directly observe their surroundings, capturing sensations of light and movement. Artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso were also heavily influenced by Manet, who created new forms of expression and imagery that challenged traditional norms and conventions.

His bold, unconventional approach paved the way for artists of following generations to pursue their unique ideas and styles.


douard Manet has been an individual who creatively left a vast impact on the art world. His artworks challenged and altered existing artistic traditions.

In a time where the French Academy set strict guidelines for acceptable art, Manet used his work to challenge conventions and authority. By breaking free of traditional techniques and ideals, Manet not only became a significant force in art history, but also paved the way for future artists to do the same.

His ever-changing and unique stylistic approach has continued to fascinate and inspire generations of artists, and this legacy is set to continue for many years to come.

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One of the most discussed aspects of douard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass is the woman depicted in the painting. The use of an unclothed woman in a public setting was unconventional in the 19th century, and it garnered a great deal of controversy.

The woman in the painting is often assumed to be a sex worker or a mistress. However, recent research has shown that the model was likely Victorine-Louise Meurent, an aspiring painter who later became successful in her own right.

Meurent posed for Manet in several of his works, including Olympia, where she played the role of the nude courtesan. Meurent was also the subject of other celebrated painters of the time period, including Edgar Degas and Alfred Stevens.

Subtopic 5.2

In addition to Luncheon on the Grass, Manet’s other works often dealt with themes of Parisian modernity. The painting, Street Singer, features a female figure, which has been interpreted as a representative of the working-class model, who is depicted singing in the city streets.

Manet’s works identified themselves against the highly detailed, realistic paintings of the Academy and instead focused more on painting emotions and sensations. He was inspired by the social innovations and new technologies of his time period, such as photography, which influenced his stylistic choices as well.

Manet has been known for his use of flat areas of color in his paintings, which can be compared to the techniques of photography. His technique of flattening the scenes creates a sense of the photograph and eliminates the inherited details of traditional painting.

In The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, Manet composed mirror reflections that captured the viewer in the image, thus questioning realism in photography. This is a prime example of how Manet’s work was impacted by early photography and how it influenced his stylistic approach.


douard Manet was a disruptive artist of the 19th century, who defied his tendencies and produced unconventional artworks that went against traditional boundaries. His subjects, including the woman in Luncheon on the Grass and other models, became his muses, and he found deeper personal meanings in bringing them to his canvas.

His experimental approach of flattening the paint’s texture and creating new ways of compositions by playing with light and scale, marks his distinct signature and greatly influenced the artistic movement for years to come. Although, he was never formally a part of any specific artistic movement; his work united them all.

In summary, douard Manet’s groundbreaking art challenged the conventions of the 19th century. His paintings, such as Le Djeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia, sparked controversy due to their unconventional subject matter and stylistic choices.

Through a formal analysis of his works, we can appreciate Manet’s unique approach to composition, color, and light. The symbolic significance of the woman in Luncheon on the Grass, likely modeled by Victorine-Louise Meurent, adds further depth and complexity to his art.

Manet’s influence on art history and subsequent movements, as well as his incorporation of elements influenced by photography, solidify his place as a pivotal figure who pushed the boundaries of artistic expression. Thus, Manet’s legacy remains at the forefront as a lasting reminder that art has the power to challenge, provoke, and inspire.

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