Édouard Manet and Claude Monet are two of the best-known French artists of the 19th century. Their names are easily recognizable, but also easily confused. A simple slipup between vowels can turn an impressive art-world anecdote into a chaotic and confusing mess. Because of this, we sat down with the two Getty curators behind the current Manet exhibition to clarify the differences between the painters.
Who Is Édouard Manet?
Manet is a French artist who lived from 1832 to 1883 and is celebrated as a father of modern art, because he broke dramatically from academic tradition, disrupting conventional painting categories—such as history, portraiture, landscape, and still life. Instead, he focused on the real-world subjects of modern life. Uninterested in slick finish and minute detail, Manet emphasized the inherent material and visual qualities of painting. You can recognize these modern themes in Manet’s works like Luncheon on the Grass, Olympia, and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.
Manet died at age 51, and while he became well known during his life, he did not produce a massive number of paintings. However, the works he created can be seen at some of the world’s most prestigious museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
He has been cited as an inspiration for subsequent art movements like Impressionism, Cubism, and abstraction more broadly.
Who Is Claude Monet?
Monet is also French, but belonged to a slightly younger generation of artists (he was born in 1840). Monet, like his contemporaries, was an Impressionist, inspired by Manet’s rebellious art.
Monet was a master at capturing color, often returning to the same subject again and again. He worked to communicate all the nuances of light. Many of Monet’s more famous works come from series he painted in the last three decades of his life, and he was more prolific than Manet. You’re more likely to see a recognizable Monet in a museum today because there are simply more Monets out there. Art enthusiasts might know Monet’s Wheatstacks, Water Lilies, or Cathedral paintings.
Which Is the Impressionist?
Impressionism is an art movement from the late 19th century that took some of Manet’s ideas to another level. Artists were interested in capturing fleeting moments of modern life quickly. This led to many artists taking their canvases outside of the studio to capture dancers, cafe scenes, sunrises, and sunsets. Today, Impressionism has made such an impact that we see its influence in art and visual culture to the point that we may not even notice it—but this work was radically different and game-changing in 19th-century Paris.
Despite being a major influence on the movement, Manet was not an Impressionist. His work is always in dialog with art history, with tradition, with art of the museum, says curator Scott Allan. He adds, “modernity and tradition are always in confrontation. That’s where a lot of the tension in Manet’s art comes from.”
Monet, on the other hand, is a true Impressionist. In fact, the term comes from a Monet painting titled Impression, Sunrise. The group called the Impressionists also included Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cézanne. They frequently exhibited their paintings together.
Regardless of influence, Manet never exhibited with Monet and this group of Impressionists, and he is technically not an Impressionist.
How Long Have They Been Confused?
The Manet-and-Monet confusion goes all the way back to 1865, when both artists were included in the same Salon. The Salon was a major exhibition held once a year in Paris, where artists would show their best two artworks to be judged by art critics and the public.
The 1865 Salon exhibition was hung in alphabetical order. The two painters’ artworks were placed next to each other, and more than a century’s worth of confusion followed. That year Monet exhibited two landscapes, which were generally received positively.
Next to Monet, however, hung Manet’s now-infamous Olympia, which depicted a contemporary prostitute, a West Indian maid, and a black cat hissing with its back arched and tail up. The painting instantly caused a scandal, helped launch modern art as we know it, and to this day is among Manet’s most recognizable artworks.
The proximity of the two artists’ paintings and their similar names led to some confusion, which resulted in Manet being accidentally complimented on Monet’s sea and landscape paintings. A friendly competitiveness was sparked between the two artists that continued throughout both of their careers.
The rest is (art) history.
How Can You Tell Their Paintings Apart?
While Manet surely influenced the work of Monet, the reverse was true as well. Here are some tips for spotting the differences between the artists.
Studio v. outdoors
Manet primarily worked in a studio and meticulously orchestrated many of his paintings, often scraping paint off and redoing a whole painting if he wasn’t happy with it.
Monet, like many other impressionists, was known to leave the four walls of a studio and take his canvas outside into the open air, known as plein air painting.
People vs. landscapes
Manet’s work often features people, often with harsh contours and abrupt contrasts of light and shadow that help carve out his subjects.
Monet usually paints landscapes and seascapes, with brief strokes of paint used to dissolve solid forms into a shimmer of light and color.
Brush strokes and color
Look at the two examples of how the artists captured water. On the left, Manet uses long strokes of the same color in different shades, mixing varying amounts of white in to suggest ripples on the surface.
On the right, Monet uses “messy” brush strokes. He was also a master of light and color, so his works explore color theory by capturing the same subject repeatedly in different lighting. The water consists not only of blues, but also complementary oranges, yellows, and pinks.
A sunrise by Monet encapsulates all the nuances that the light offers, including warm oranges and vibrant blues of every shade. Monet’s work is known to leave an impression more impactful than a photograph.
When all else fails, look for their signature.
Artworks by Manet and Monet are always on view at the Getty. For a look into the late career of Manet, visit Manet and Modern Beauty for free at the Getty Center through Jan 12, 2020.