Of Édouard Manet's personal appearance we know that he was of average height, that he wore a short, square beard, that he had fair hair and vivacious deep-set eyes. His manners were smooth and courteous, and he was always well dressed, in the fashion of his time. As to the appearance of his pictures, we find the following description in an article written by Émile Zola in 1867: "His paintings are light-coloured and luminous, with a concrete and tangible pallor. The light in them is white and wide-spread, casting a gentle glow over the objects depicted."
His personal appearance and demeanour give scant indication of his human qualities, and in the some way the luminous aspect of his pictures is of little importance in determining their place in art. The latter seems to me to have been admirably defined by Paul Valéry--though it is true that he gives no grounds for his statement--in the following words: "The fame of Manet's name was assured by the quality of his admirers, and above all by their diversity. These devotees of his painting, differing so widely in character, united in asserting that his place was among the great masters, among those men whose art and authority have endowed the flowers of a day, the changing fashions, the bodies of human beings and the fleeting glances of their eyes with a kind of permanence which will endure for centuries, and a spiritual and interpretative value which may be compared with that of a sacred text."
After Manet's death Edgar Degas uttered the expressive words: "He was greater than we thought."
The above statements need explanation and substantiation, and this is possible only by means of a brief delineation of the history of his pictures, which forms a striking contrast to the banal and typical story of his everyday life. For this well-dressed, urbane man, with his check waistcoat and his tall hot, who spent his afternoons in the Café Tortoni, this sociable Parisian, very much the "galant homme" and something of a dandy, who glided noiselessly through a conventional world, seems to have led a double life. Side-by-side with the tranquil existence of a good bourgeois, respecting the petty formalities of his milieu and at the same time following the conventional path of a man of the world who had liaisons and fought duels, there existed the eventful life of an artist who seemed to be turning upside-down all the laws of painting. The former of these two existences seems to have had no other purpose than to give chronological order and dates to the latter; it seems to be nothing but a silken thread holding together a chain of beautiful pearls.
Of this thread there is little to be said except that it began at one point and ended at another, but we shall of necessity often be conscious of it when we come to examine any of those pearls whose beauty attracts us, and before which we pause longer than before the others which we allow to glide noiselessly through our fingers.