Culture and Recreation

Fine Art

Was Monet the “father of French impressionism”?

Though the movement was named for one of Claude Monet’s (1840–1926) paintings and his Water Lilies (1905) are arguably the most well-known and highly acclaimed impressionist works, impressionism is actually rooted in the works of the group’s spiritual leader, Édouard Manet (1832–1883), who first began experimenting with color and light to bring a more naturalistic quality to painting.

In 1863 Manet exhibited two highly controversial and groundbreaking works: Déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. Both paintings were based on classic subjects, but Manet rendered these pastoral scenes according to his own experience, giving them a decidedly more earthy and blatantly erotic quality than the Parisian critics and academicians of the day could accept. He was roundly criticized for his scandalous exhibition. Nevertheless, Manet persevered, and in 1868, with his portrait of the French writer Emile Zola, he again challenged the art world and its values. A critic for Le National denounced the portrait and cited among his complaints that Zola’s trousers were not made of cloth. This, the artists observed, was both truth and revelation: the pants were made of paint. A few years later, in 1870, Manet began experimenting with painting outside, in the brilliance of natural sunlight. Manet pioneered many of the ideas and techniques taken up by the impressionists.


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