The Evolution of Manet: Transitioning from Realism to Impressionism, 1860-1880
Although at first glance, Realism and Impressionism appear to be completely separate movements in 19th century art, they in fact were both bred as a response to the new order of Europe that had evolved as a result of the marks made by both the Industrial Revolution and a series of European continental wars. Realist painters and Impressionist painters alike faced controversy in challenging the status quo of the Salons, and took risks to no longer romanticize drastic changes within society caused by industrialization, but instead acknowledge them head-on. Edouard Manet in particular exemplified the gradual transitions from Realism to Impressionism and even to Post-Impressionism. His then-radical methods of integrating of scientific observation, new roles of women, and political turmoil into his paintings earned him both the vilification of an older generation and the admiration and veneration of a newer one. Through his innovation of existing painting techniques and his encouragement of later revolutionary painters, Manet helped transform the canvas of the European art world in the mid 1800s.
Edouard Manet considered himself a realist and disliked associating his name with the impressionist movement, which is why it may be ironic that today, Manet is considered one of the forefathers of the Age of Impressionism. Just as Manet came onto the world stage of art in the mid 1800s, a revolution was beginning of which he was to become a part.
The Realist movement, which evolved from the stark sacrifices made during industrialization, sought to show the harsh conditions of workers, basing their philosophies on the new “positivist” ideas pushed by Auguste Comte and other French philosophers. “All real knowledge rests on facts,” said Comte, an idea which would encourage Realist painters such as Gustave Courbet to depict the facts of middle-class life in such bleak paintings as The Stonebreakers and The Burial at Omans. Through its depictions of the new age of materialism, Realism eventually became a symbol for the bourgeoisie who had, from humbler origins, recently risen to new positions of power within the Parisian government. Nevertheless, Realist works had begun to gain acceptance in salons only reluctantly; some still scorned their work as “monstrously ugly”.
Impressionism, in contrast, strove not to capture the toils of society in a moralistic setting like Realism did, but to evoke a general mood in the viewer. Painting was transformed from the idea of capturing a moment on canvas to creating a moment on canvas; painting was reduced to its own surface, “no longer transparent means but opaque ends” (Schneider 43). This was exemplified by Manet’s own ideas of painting not as “sight” but as “insight” into the human condition, driven by an artist’s intuition. Manet and the impressionists began painting en plein air, outdoors in the fresh air where they were closer to...