Manet learned to paint in the Louvre by studying old masters.
He was particularly impressed by Velázquez, contrasting his vivid brushwork
with the "stews and gravies" of academic style. Manet began to develop a freer
manner, creating form not through a gradual blending of tones but with discrete
areas of color side by side. He drew on the old masters for structure, often
incorporating their motifs but giving them a modern cast Several artists had
begun to challenge the stale conventions of the Academy when Manet's Olympia
(now at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris) was accepted for the Salon in 1865. Never
had a work caused such scandal. Critics advised pregnant women to avoid the
picture, and it was rehung to thwart vandals. Viewers were not used to the
painting's flat space and shallow volumes. To many, Manet's "color patches"
appeared unfinished. Even more shocking was the frank honesty of his courtesan:
it was her boldness, not her nudity, that offended. Her languid pose copied
a Titian Venus, but Manet did not cloak her with mythology. She is not a remote
goddess but emphatically in the present, easily recognized among the demimonde
of prostitutes and dancehalls. In Olympia's steady gaze there is no apology
for sensuality and, for uncomfortable viewers, no escaping her "reality."
Manet's succès de scandale made him a leader of the avant-garde. In the evenings
at the Café Guerbois, near his studio, he was joined by writers and artists,
including Monet, Bazille, and others who would go on to organize the first
impressionist exhibition. Manet's embrace of what the poet Charles Baudelaire
termed the "heroism of modern life" and his bold manner with paint inspired
the future impressionists, though Manet never exhibited with them.