Édouard Manet (1832-1883, French) was an important catalyst for the transition from Realism to Impressionism in the 19th century. His father was a judge in the French Ministry of Justice, and he was born into an affluent family. His father expected him to become a lawyer, but Manet was interested in joining the navy. However, after failing the exams several times, he turned his interest to art after visiting the Louvre. In 1861, at just 29, the Paris Salon awarded him honorable mention for his painting The Spanish Singer. A few years later, in 1863, he shocked the public with Déjeuner sur l’herbe , where a nude woman sits with two fully clothed men enjoying a picnic, while another barely clothed woman bathes in a stream. Even though the painting was recognized as based on Titian’s Concert champêtre, art critics mercilessly criticized his painting style. In the same year, Manet produced his highly controversial painting Olympia. A nude Olympia lies nonchalantly and confrontationally on her chaise lounge while a black cat sits attentively at her feet. The painting based on Titian’s Venuse of Ubino replaces the sleeping dog for an attentive, sexually symbolic cat. Manet commented, “I just paint what I see. Could anything be plainer?” Manet used his own cat, Zizi as a model for the cat whose symbolism of sexual temptation cannot be denied. As a cat person, Manet used Zizi as a model for many of his works. For example, Woman with a Cat (1880), shows Zizi on the lap of Suzanne, Manet’s wife. This later work depicts a more domestic scene where both Suzanne and Zizi seem to meld into the walls behind them. The cat in its cozy curl seems to match Suzanne’s own posture ̶ both round and satisfied. Manet even captures the detail of Zizi’s small white muzzle. In addition, Manet produced about a hundred etchings and lithographs between 1860-1882. The Cats, published posthumously, is perhaps one of the most interesting of these. Influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, Manet’s Cats are unusual and inventive. Three cats are drawn separately, one in silhouette, the others captured while playing. Moreover, Manet produced other prints of cats such as Cat and Flowers which was commissioned by the cat loving Jules Champfleury for his book Les Chats (1869) and The Cat’s Rendevous which was to be used as a publicity poster. Manet was indeed a cat lover, as many of his letters also have small sketches of cats.
Manet died of syphilis and rheumatism in 1863 at the age of 51 and is buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.