Before Impressionism

Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)
At the Café, 1874
Gillotage on paper
Clark Art Institute, 1962.82

In the 1860s Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir—among other artists now associated with Impressionism—made their debuts in the annual juried Salon exhibition. The young artists had trained in private studios in the years surrounding the Salon des Refusés of 1863, a contentious moment in the history of the French Academy that paved the way for alternative exhibitions supporting artistic innovation. Champions of realism in art, such as Édouard Manet and Barbizon School painter Charles-Francois Daubigny, became inspirational figures to several members of the emerging Impressionist group.

Daubigny gained recognition for his tranquil landscapes depicting the Forest of Fontainebleau, located southeast of Paris. Committed to working en plein air, Daubigny sketched the reflective surfaces of the Seine River and explored the momentary effects of sunlight and weather from inside a custom-made studio-boat. Daubigny, a close friend of Monet, also mentored Félix Bracquemond, the Impressionist printmaker who taught etching to Degas and Manet. A fixture within avant-garde social circles that gathered in Parisian cafés, Manet observed the urban landscape, making on-the-spot sketches of sites of leisure. Manet, a political radical opposed to the regime of French emperor Napoleon III—the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte who ruled France from 1852 to 1870—also made politically charged works. Despite receiving the occasional rejection from the Salon, Manet sought patronage through that official avenue, declining invitations to exhibit with the Impressionists. His work, however, shared stylistic affinities with many Impressionists and likewise explored contemporary subject matter.