Edouard Manet was born in 1832. His mother was god-daughter to the Crown prince of Sweden. His father was a senior judge. It is not clear whether it was to avoid studying law or to distract him from studying art, that he embarked as a sea cadet on a training voyage to Rio, but the trip succeeded terrifically in the former aim and hopelessly in the latter.
In 1850 Manet entered the studio of Thomas Couture with whom he studied for six years. Paris at this time was undergoing wholesale change under Haussmann, becoming the city we recognise today.
His first notable painting was the Absinthe Drinker, which scandalised his teacher Couture in its portrayal of a solitary drunk in a dark Paris alley. Music in the Tuileries was quite different, a group portrait of his friends and family. Manet spent a great deal of time at this period in the company of the poet Baudelaire, whose insistence that art should reflect the modern world greatly influenced the painter.
In 1861 Manet had married his piano teacher and sometime model, Suzanne Leenhoff.
Dejeuner sur l'herbe made Manet's name. It remains a most enigmatic painting; at the time of its execution it was thought scandalous. It portrays a naked woman with two clothed men; it is the nakedness (as opposed to nudity) that shocked. Refused by the Salon (by which manet curiously set great store), it was the centre piece of the Salon des Refusees. Similar outrage greeted Olympia, a painting of a prostitute that echoed Goya's Maja.
In 1865 Manet visited Spain, and returned to Paris with a distinctly darker palette. The following year he met Cezanne, Zola and Monet, and began to hold court at the Café Guerbois in the grande rue Batignolles. During the Franco-Prussian War Manet sent his family south to protect them from the fighting in Paris and signed on as a gunner in the National Guard; when in May 1871 he finally returned to Paris he found his studio partly wrecked. By 1874 his painting was being influenced directly by impressionist techniques, as manifested in his paintings of Argenteuil.
In 1881 Manet, then ailing, was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur.
By the time Manet had begun A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, the artist was fatally ill. He died on April 30, 1883. He is buried at Passy cemetery in Paris.
Manet was not a bohemian, nor a radical but he was himself a dandy, and enjoyed society. He was well-mannered, witty and intelligent. Like his near contemporary, Oscar Wilde, he saw the truth in the surfaces of things. As Wilde put it 'The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible'.