The painting is currently held by the Museum of Art in São Paulo. It was completed in c.1880 and depicts the famed explorer Eugène Pertuiset. Manet exhibited The Lion Hunter at the Paris Salon in 1881 where it received much criticism for its flat style and use of violet. In response, the artist Alexandre Cabanel came to Manet's defence, arguing that none of his critics could achieve what Manet could en plein air (by painting outdoors).
Despite criticisms of whimsy from other artists and critics, Manet came away from the 1881 Salon with a medal. This indicated a changing tide in an art world that had publicly derided Manet's work. Manet incorporates his distinctive use of light filtering through the trees in the background and forming bold shadows around the central figure in violet. According to the French art critic Théodore Duret, Manet's The Lion Hunter was painted in the summer of 1880 in Paris rather than Africa.
Pertuiset was a famous trophy hunter who had written—and had written of him—tales of exploits shooting lions. Manet decided to paint him with one such trophy behind him. However, the fact that Manet invented the tableaux suggests that realism was not the intent of this particular painting, especially given that Manet often followed a philosophy of only painting what he had seen with his own eyes. Manet had not been to Africa and had certainly not witnessed Pertuiset shooting a lion.
Manet opened his studio in 1856 with a style heavily influenced by the realism of Gustave Courbet. He often painted Parisian down-and-outs which won him little favour at the conservative Paris Salon, centre of the Parisian art establishment. However, many young artists praised his work, becoming intrigued by Manet's rough brushstroke in comparison to the Salon's meticulous style and form.
As Manet built a reputation for his stylistic accomplishments, he became friends with the painters Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro. Manet was admired by those painters as an instigator and influence on their Impressionist style, although he never associated himself fully with any movement.