'EDOUARD MANET has long been considered one of the greatest masters of the second half of last century - but this was not always so. His first pictures were ridiculed and scorned by the art critics of Paris, both the official and unofficial. Why they greeted the work of the early Impressionists with so much ridicule is difficult to understand today. Most contemporary museum-goers actively love them. These paintings, neither anecdotal nor illustrations of literary thoughts, laid the foundation for the language of current art.
Although Manet was profoundly unhappy about the initial negative response to his paintings, he never made concessions to secure approval. His great gift flowed so irresistibly that he was constrained to paint in that manner. At times borrowing or assimilating, without really changing, Manet remained faithful to his own temperament.
'Edouard was initiated into art by Uncle Fournier, an officer in the artillery. Together each Sunday they went to the Louvre and sketched. Maturity did not alter this habit. Manet continued to study the masterpieces at the Louvre between voyages to Germany, Holland, Italy, and Spain.
The Spanish influence still lingers in ``The Balcony'' of 1868-69, which presents a trio of friends taking the air. Of particular interest is the seated figure, Berthe Morisot, a talented Impressionist artist and one of Manet's favorite sitters. She later married his younger brother, Eug`ene.
The colors in this painting are particular to Manet: sulfur green for the rails and shutters of the balcony, satin-smooth whites with slightly bluish or rosy tints for the dresses.
Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and other independents chose Manet as their leader, and he joined them often at the famous Caf'e Guerbois in Montmartre. While 'Edouard never completely abandoned the studio, plein-airism became dear and familiar to him, and he painted outdoors ``in concert'' with the others joyfully.
Manet's pictures are known for their unusually beautiful surfaces. Broad areas of color contrast nicely with their neighbors. Contours dare not to be sculptural. Shadows and highlights are indicated by very abrupt passages.
Rather than looking like a poor, rejected artist, Manet, whose family was well-to-do, appeared a man about town, somewhat elegantly dressed and carrying a light cane, whistling cheerfully.
``The Balcony,'' long prized at the Louvre, is at the recently inaugurated Mus'ee d'Orsay just across the River Seine. This fabulous new museum, an ingenious reconstruction of the former huge railway station and hotel, exhibits art produced between 1850 and 1910 - from the break with the past to the embracing of today's modernity.