A key artist in the transition from Realism to Impressionism, Édouard Manet was born in Paris to an upper-class family. Though his father wanted him to become a lawyer, Manet was drawn only to art. Though a student of drawing since 1845, he began his formal artistic study with the academic painter Thomas Couture from 1850 to 1856. In 1856, Manet opened his own studio, working in a Realist style, but utilizing loose brush stoke and simplifying details. He portrayed everyone from beggars to bullfighters. His two paintings accepted to the Salon in 1861 were distinct from the more academic, strictly Realist works and excited young artists. In the following years, Manet completed some of his greatest masterpieces, including Luncheon on the Grass (1863) and the pivotal Olympia (1863). Both works drew from Renaissance compositions and both sparked controversy in the Paris Salon.
Manet became friends with the Impressionists through fellow painter Berthe Morisot, but remained independent of the group and did not exhibit with them. He still believed in the Salon, which the Impressionists had dismissed. Even so, Manet influenced the Impressionists and found inspiration in the work of Monet and Morisot. His works were a reaction to modern life, from café scenes, to social gatherings, to war. Manet contracted syphilis in his forties and developed painful side effects as the disease progressed. He received the French Légion d’honneur in 1881. Two years later, his left foot was amputated due to gangrene and he died 11 days later.