In 1850 Edouard Manet, whose father was a prosperous Paris senior civil servant, left the naval academy to become an artist. Instead of applying to the conservative École des Beaux-Arts, he entered the studio of the history and portrait painter Thomas Couture between 1850 and 1856. Although Manet was unable to identify with the tenets of history painting and moralising eroticism he encountered there, he was nonetheless inspired to make his first important experiments with painting built up on colour.
An inveterate traveller, he copied the works of such consummate colourists as Hals, Rembrandt and Titian, his most important models, apart from Delacroix, Goya, Murillo and Velázquez. In the 1860s Manet began to handle what were really traditional themes in an avant-garde manner in the form of large-scale figurative paintings. "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe", in which, as in "Olympia", a mythological theme is subjected to radically contemporary interpretation, caused a scandal at the 1863 Salon des Refusés.
Edouard Manet is provocative not only in his choice of subject matter and the way he relates it to the society of his time but also in his handling, which gives priority to colour over line, playing with brilliant contrasts and frequently making his compositions appear spontaneous.
After 1871 Edouard Manet, too, was inspired by contact with Claude Monet to paint in the open air. Consequently, a palette in a higher key, glowing colours and lighter, more sketchy brushwork became the hallmark of his paintings in the years that followed. During this period Manet was more broadly acclaimed by his fellow artists, collectors and critics, culminating in a second-class medal at the "Salon" and the "Legion of Honour"in 1881.
By now seriously ill, he died in 1882 but, for all his fame, it would take another seven years for his "Olympia" to be hung in the Louvre and for Manet's œuvre to be recognised as highly influential for the paintings of the late 19th century.