Art history has always been of great interest to Kelley. He's read many books and articles on the subject.
A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind.
— Eugene Ionesco
The advent of photography in the middle 1800s gave everyone with a camera the ability to make their own copies of reality. Once this was accomplished, who needed painters? To fill this void, a new art movement came about. The French school of Impressionism gave artists the means to interpret the subject as they saw it, not how it really was. Thus the artist became an inseparable aspect of his or her art, a hallmark in the rise of modern art.
In the introduction to The Story of Art, E.H. Gombrich wrote: “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.”
As the movement developed in the 1870s, Impressionism highlights spontaneity, sunlight and color, with an emphasis of painting outdoors, right there on the spot, en plein air, as it was described by the French. The Impressionists, as they came to be called, also emphasized the lives of common people, as opposed to that of aristocrats, military leaders or important figures in history, religion or mythology. This was called genre painting.
Many critics derided Impressionism, but the public embraced it.
Two of the giants of French Impressionism were Claude Monet and Édouard Manet. Monet, along with artists such as Sisley, Morisot, Renoir and Pissarro, were considered the purest Impressionists, while Manet stayed on the fringe, his feet firmly planted in Realism; he also refused to stop using black, which the Impressionists eschewed.
Among these killer M’s, if you will, who is better? The impact of both painters is immense, but which giant of modern art has the most influence? That’s the reason for writing this article.
Claude Monet was born in Paris, France in 1840, but he spent his early life near the beaches at Normandy. At the age of 11 Monet began creating charcoal caricatures, which he sold for 10 to 20 francs apiece. When Monet was a teenager, he met fellow painter Eugéne Boudin, who taught Monet to use oil paints. Boudin also taught Monet en plein air techniques for painting.
When Monet moved back to Paris, he soon visited the Louvre, where he saw other painters copying works of the Old Masters. But, rather than do this, Monet opted for painting what he saw outdoors. About this time, Monet met fellow painter, Édouard Manet.
In 1861, Monet joined the Army for seven years, eventually suffering from typhoid fever, until his aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre, now his guardian after his mother had died, helped get him released from military service after only two years. Then his aunt enrolled him in art school. However, Monet didn’t like the curriculum, which emphasized traditional painting. Instead, Monet became a student of Charles Gleyre and also joined forces with painters such as Renoir and Pissarro, forming the nucleus of the movement that came to be known as Impressionism.
With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Monet fled to England, where he studied the landscape paintings of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner. Interestingly, Turner is sometimes considered the first modern artist.
Then, in 1872, Monet painted Impression, Sunrise, which he showed at the first Impressionism exhibition in 1874. Art critic, Louis Leroy, though "impressed" with Monet's piece, disparaged it nevertheless, coining the term “Impressionism.” About Monet’s unusual work, Leroy wrote, “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”
Of course, the sketchiness of Impressionism is the point! And the movement soon adopted Leroy’s insulting term.
Monet and his family lived in a state of poverty for most of Monet's life until he moved to Giverny in northwestern France during 1883, after which time his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, began selling many of his paintings, improving Monet’s standard of living considerably. Perhaps because of Monet’s relative wealth, he began working on his “series” paintings, in which a subject was painted during different periods of light, an example of which was Haystacks. Another was Water Lilies, which depicted about 250 oil paintings of the water flora found in Monet’s garden at Giverny.
Late in life, Monet suffered from cataracts, eventually having two operations for the disease, yet he managed to keep painting. Monet died of cancer in 1926 at the age of 86. He is regarded as the most prolific painter of Impressionism. His work sells for millions as well; for instance, Nymphéas, from the Water Lilies series, sold for $36 million USD in 2007.
In 1832, Édouard Manet came into the world in Paris, France. Born to an affluent and influential family, Manet rejected the career in law his father had envisioned for him and instead chose art. In 1845, Manet enrolled in a special course of drawing, at which point he met Antonin Proust, future minister of Fine Arts and eventual long-time friend. When Manet began painting, he copied Old Masters in the Louvre, as many other artists did.
In 1856, Manet opened his own studio. As most of his contemporaries were doing, he painted Realism, as exemplified by the work of Gustave Courbet, who initiated the movement, which rebelled against Romanticism, an emotional style of painting beginning to lose its hold on the art world of the middle 1800s. Two of Manet’s prominent paintings from this era were The Absinthe Drinker (1858-1859) and Music in the Tuileries (1862). Manet’s painterly style was inspired by Frans Hals, Francisco José de Goya and Diego Velázquez.
One of Manet’s most revolutionary works was Luncheon on the Grass (1863), rejected by the Paris Salon, but which Manet then exhibited at the Salon de Refusés (Salon of the Rejected). The painting depicts two fully clothed men with a nude woman sitting next to them. The woman gazes nonchalantly at the viewer. Another nude woman bathes in the background. The painting shows the influence of Old Masters, along with the sketchiness of the avant-garde. The matter-of-fact nudity of the piece outraged much of the French public. Incidentally, Manet’s wife posed for the female nude in the foreground!
At about the same time, Manet paid homage to famous Renaissance painters Titian, Giorgione and Goya, when he created Olympia in 1863. This painting shows a nude, reclining woman, probably a prostitute, or odalisque would have been a much nicer way of describing her. The direct stare on the woman’s face seems to challenge the viewer; this is obviously no modest woman. The painting scandalized many conservative critics, though it had numerous predecessors, particularly The Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian and The Nude Maja (1800) by Goya. However, members of the avant-garde such as Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin appreciated the painting’s significance.
Manet’s work at this point in his career became known as early modernism, because of the black outlining of his figures, the use of photographic lighting effects, as well as his uneven painting style. In fact, to this day, Manet is often called the first modern artist. But some experts instead point to J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851), who once told someone, “Indistinctness is my forte.”
Who’s to say which painter is the first?
Although Manet was considered one of the Impressionists, he resisted that label and only tried plein air painting - what most Impressionists were doing at the time - because friends Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot urged him to do so. An example of this work is the painting, Garden Path in Rueil (1882). Nevertheless, Manet always returned to the studio where he thought serious work had to be done.
In the twilight years of Manet’s life, he painted many café and bar scenes, an exemplar of the latter being A Bar at the Folies-Bergére (1882), the last major work of his life. It depicts a barmaid gazing toward the viewer, perhaps ready to ask, What would you like to drink? In the background stands another barmaid - or the mirrored reflection of the one in the foreground, but only Manet knew for sure what he was trying to show. Manet also signed his name in the label of the beer bottle at lower left, perhaps anticipating product placement techniques in the last part of the twentieth century!
Édouard Manet died in 1883 at the age of 51.
Now, who is better – Monet or Manet? Monet gets lots of points because he was the most prolific painter of Impressionism. Of course, living to the ripe old age of 86 helped him paint for a long time! Also, it was one of Monet’s painting for which Impressionism got its name. As for Manet, he is often considered the first modern artist, a label carrying considerable weight in the world of art history. Moreover, at least some of Manet’s paintings shocked the public, though the value of such controversy is purely subjective in nature.
Since Monet and Manet’s paintings are worth similar amounts of money - that is, tens of millions of U.S. dollars, who would bother to add up the amounts and compare the totals? However, although Monet may be the more popular of the two, Manet seems to have a larger impact on the art world of the present; therefore, Manet is the better of the two.
Please vote for your favorite!
© 2010 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 29, 2020:
Thanks for the comment, Edward Lane. I've always liked this article and many other people seem to like it as well. Anyway, I've tinkered with this article recently and that seems to have paid off. Later!...
Edward Lane from Wichita Falls, Texas on March 28, 2020:
Love this article. Monet always been one of my favorite articles!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 08, 2018:
You're back, Vicki Wood! Anyway, I like Monet and Manet about the same, but I think Manet's work is more important in the world of art, so if somebody wanted to give me a painting from one or the other, I'd take one of Manet's - "Olympia" would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
Vicki Wood from Eldon, Missouri on January 06, 2018:
Neither is better to me, I only voted Monet because I like his work more. They are so different to me. I love the muted colors of Monet. But I love the crisp, stark sometimes haunting, always thoughtful images of Manet. I love them both always have been my favorites, so glad to find this article.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 16, 2014:
Thanks for the comment, Mariana Fuzaro. Hey, I pick Manet, because his work seems of greater importance to the history of modern art. Later!
Mariana Fuzaro from São Paulo, Brazil on November 15, 2014:
It is a difficult choice, but to me the splendid way Monet painted the effects of light makes him the best.
Masha Bagrova on September 21, 2014:
I just love Monet too much, so Monet for me.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 27, 2012:
Thanks for the comment, Enzie Shahmiri. I think you're right about the talent of each artist being a matter of preference. But it's fun to discuss the merits of each. Later!
Enzie Shahmiri from Laguna Hills, California on February 27, 2012:
I like Monet because of his softer palette. Both artists were masters in their own time and I really think it comes down to personal preference over which artist was a better painter.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on September 29, 2011:
I prefer Manet's work. Thanks. Later!
Anna Sidorova from Russia on September 28, 2011:
I do prefer the artwork by Monet. He is sublime!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 14, 2011:
Hey, tonymead60, I've seen some of Caillebotte's work, and he is certainly a good artist. Whether he measures up to Monet and Manet is a subject of great debate. Thanks for the comment. I hope you voted. Later!
Tony Mead from Yorkshire on June 14, 2011:
I must say that of all the impressionists, it is probably Monet that is most liked, and yet the lesser known Gustave Caillebotte was perhaps more of a realist but he was influenced by the impressionist and was the best of that school of art by far in my opinion.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 30, 2011:
I'd love to see some of Monet's work up close. It must be awesome. Later!
Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on January 30, 2011:
Nice hub! When I first saw Monet's works exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I fell in love with the way in which he channeled our senses. By stepping back just a few feet, you could smell the salt sea air and feel the warmth of the sun. Amazing artist.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 23, 2011:
Yeah, you've gotta love Monet's ability to depict the natural world. Some of his atmospheric effects are startling. Later!
suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on January 23, 2011:
I also vote for Monet. I love his sense of color and light. Great Hub.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 14, 2010:
Well, I'm not sure it's a brilliant hub, but I'll take the compliment, especially from another art lover. If you like this one, check out my Andy Warhol story - I really like it. Later!
Ashok Rajagopalan from Chennai on December 13, 2010:
A brilliant hub on those artists who gave art a major transformation! Thank you, Kosmo! :)
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 08, 2010:
Thanks for the comment, Lynda. It's always good to read your enlightened reponse. I guess there really is no good reason to do this hub, other than to satisfy my own cheekiness. Monet or Manet, who cares who is better? Anyway, I don't blame you for picking Monet, his canvases are astonishingly big and very impressive. I told you he is the more popular of the two. Later!
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on December 08, 2010:
I'm a Monet fan. I love the lightness of his work. Manet has a much heavier hand. I vote for Monet.
Years ago, in Montreal, the museum hosted an exhibition of the various works of Monet. These paintings must be seen in person to truly appreciate their beauty.
Thanks for a great read. Lynda