Van Gogh •
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Edouard Manet was born in Paris. His father was a government official, and although Edouard showed early artistic talent, he was destined for the Navy until he failed the entrance examinations.
He then began to study art with Thomas Couture, whose academic teaching did not satisfy Manet. He began to study the works of the Venetian Renaissance masters, the Dutch seventeenth-century artists and of the Spaniard Velázquez. He studied these first in Fountainbleau, then in the Louvre, and eventually on trips abroad to Holland, Germany, Italy, and Spain where, in 1865, he discovered Goya.
His earliest works, by their delight in clear colors, strong lines and large flat areas, are strikingly similar to Spanish art, particularly in his silhouetted figures which, if cut out, would leave a background in monochrome and a clearly defined outline. These striking paintings are well delineated and so rounded in contour that they seem almost to project outwards from the immediate foreground. From the very beginning of his career, Manet startled the public. His "Luncheon on the Grass" (1863), in which a nude woman sits besides two fully dressed men, based on a classical work by Giorgione, virtually created a scandal. This scandal might seem ridiculous by today's standards, but it marks a turning point in the history of art and in its freedom of expression.
Manet became the elder leader of the group of artists who met at the Café Guerbois. The experiments of some of the younger members of the Impressionist School led him to further lighten his palette, although he never experimented with the effects of light, and he preferred painting in the studio to working in the open air. Unlike the Impressionists, he made considerable use of black, a black that became a living color in his works. Manet died at the age of fifty-one of a progressive forms of paralysis, after years of suffering and futile treatment. Although his works stem from the traditional techniques of the past, in their freedom of composition, use of color, broad planes, and solid construction, they lead toward the future. He brought fresh inspiration and technique to the observation of nature and contemporary life and served both as an influence and as the stimulus for the Impressionists.