Victorine Meurent

Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)
Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)

The painting above, Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday, is unique in as much as it is the only surviving painting by my featured artist.  It was recovered in 2004 and can now be found hanging in the local museum of Colombes, a suburb of Paris.  The artist who completed the work in the 1880’s is Victorine Meurent.  “Victorine who? “, do I hear you say.  If you haven’t heard the name as an artist, you may have heard of her as an artist’s model.

Victorine Meurent was born into a working class family in Paris in 1844.  It is thought that her father worked as an engraver, a patinator of bronze, and her mother worked as a milliner. Little is known of Victorine’s teenage years but it is known that she had a musical aptitude being able to play various instruments, such as the guitar and violin.   It is also thought that she must have shown an interest in art as it is believed that in 1860, at the age of sixteen, she worked as a model at the Senlis studio of the French history painter, Thomas Couture, and it was here she probably received her first artistic tuition.      Two years later, in 1862, she met Édouard Manet.  One account tells of their meeting at Couture’s studio, another version of the meeting was that Manet saw her walking down a Paris street carrying her guitar.  Whatever the circumstances of that first encounter, there was an immediate rapport between these two very different characters.  She was a young unsophisticated girl from a poor background eking out a living as an artist’s model whilst at the same time struggling to become an artist in her own right.   Édouard Manet, on the other hand, was twelve years her senior, a wealthy painter who came from an aristocratic background.   So what could the two offer each other?  I suppose it is obvious.  For her, Manet could provide her with employment as his model and at the same time offer her some drawing tuition.  For him, being a painter, he was always on the lookout for a good looking young female model and Victorine with her eye-catching long unruly red hair was just what he liked.  She was small, slightly dumpy in stature, which often led her to be given the nickname, la Crevette, the shrimp.   She was not what one would describe as an elegant beauty but she appealed to Manet.  It was almost a marriage made in heaven and she would, for the next ten years, become Manet’s favourite model.

Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)
Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)

The first time Manet used Victorine as a model was for a painting in 1862.   The painting is entitled Street Singer, which is now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The woman we see depicted is modelled by Victorine.  She is hurriedly leaving a café, with her guitar securely tucked under her arm.  She is dressed in a drab brown gown alluding to the fact that she was poor and did not have the money to buy a new one.  She has been performing her music at the café and appears to be in a hurry to get to her next musical appointment.   Although she has no time to loiter, she quickly glances towards us and, at the same time, crams cherries into her mouth.  This gesture once again alludes to the fact that she is not one of Paris’ refined ladies.  She is too busy to stop and soon will disappear amongst the bustling Parisian crowd.    This painting by Manet was in some ways a new kind of art.  It was not the academic art which depicted women in scenes from the bible or from mythological stories.  This art of his depicted real life, real people and as he himself said:

“…You must be of your time and paint what you see…”

Probably the two most famous or maybe infamous works by Édouard Manet, and which also featured Victorine Meurent,  were the nude portrayals of her in his 1862 painting Olympia (see My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) and his 1868 painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (My Daily Art Display Oct 23rd 2010)

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)

The larger version of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe  can be found at the Musée d’Orsay whilst a smaller version is housed in the Courtauld Gallery in London.   We see her completely naked with two fully clothed men lounging on the grass having just partaken of a picnic with two gentlemen friends.   The painting caused a furore and Victorine was caught up in the public scandal which followed the exhibition of the work.  It was said that respectable men hurried their wives past the naked depiction of Victorine before they themselves returned for a closer look !!!   Emperor Napoleon III who visited the exhibition was vociferous in his condemnation of the work saying that it was disgusting.

What particularly shocked the public was that she was portrayed as a naked woman who exhibited no mortification at her compromising position alongside two fully clothed men.  The man sitting next to Victorine was modelled by Manet’s brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff, and the man laying back opposite her is a composite of Manet’s two younger brothers, Eugène, who went on to marry the artist Berthe Morisot, and his other brother Gustave.  If we looked at historical paintings of the time, naked women who were depicted as nymphs or goddesses were more likely to be shown shrinking from the viewer in order to reach some piece of clothing to hide their nudity. In Manet’s picture, the young woman makes no attempt to hide her nudity.  She just sits there, seemingly bored by her companions and what they had to say and appears to have been lost in thought until we came on to the scene.  Now she fixes us with her gaze and we are made to feel uncomfortable as we take on the role as voyeurs.  It was maybe not just Victorine’s state of undress that shocked the public but her haughty and reproving gaze that caused the upset.   This painting had been rejected by the jurists of the 1863 Paris Salon and so Manet had to turn to the Salon des Refusés for inclusion in their exhibition.

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)
Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

As Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe shocked the public and caused such a stir one may have been forgiven for thinking that Manet, with his model, Victorine Meurent would tone down his next work.    Far from toning down the subject of his next painting, he shocked the public even more with his following work which he completed in 1863, and which was entitled Olympia.  If we recall Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe we have to admit that there was no hint of sexual activity having taken place at the picnic.  The furore was caused by a naked woman being depicted next to two clothed gentlemen and if we, the viewers, wanted to accept a sexual connotation to the depiction then that was more of what was in our mind and not what was depicted on the canvas.   However Olympia went a step further by depicting the lady, modelled by Victorine, as a courtesan awaiting her next client.  The bedclothes she lies upon are still rumpled from her previous sexual encounter.   Her black maidservant has just brought her flowers from her next eager client but the courtesan ignores them and just looks out at us, a sign that the flowers meant nothing to her and it was simply a case of business is business.  One can just imagine how the visitors to the exhibition felt when they saw this work.  It is believed that this depiction of a female nude by Manet was the first time an artist had depicted a naked female.

The face of OlympiaAlthough similar to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus Manet’s work did not hide the nudity as part of a mythological scene.  Another reason for the public’s condemnation of the work was the fact that Victorine’s face is clear.  Manet has not depicted the naked woman with just an indistinct face.  The face is real and by doing this Manet has humanized his courtesan or prostitute and it is that which upset the viewing public.  Maybe the gentle folk of Paris did not want to be reminded that prostitution existed and flourished in their fair city.  Courtesans had been depicted before in 19th century paintings but it was Manet’s unabashed and honest depiction of a prostitute lounging in bed, naked except for a pair of slippers and a necklace, which shocked the Parisians.

Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)
Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)

The Manet painting I like the most which also featured Victorine was his 1873 work entitled Gare Saint-Lazare often known as The Railway (My Daily Art Display Nov 9th 2011).   This was the last painting by Manet featuring Victorine and can be seen at the Royal Academy’s current exhibition Manet, Portraying Life.

Although Victorine Meurent was used as a model in those three paintings,  were they accurate portraits of the model?   Not really and one must remember they were never supposed to be portraits of her but if we really want to see what she looked like at the age of eighteen we should take a look at Manet’s 1862 portrait of her, Victorine Meurent.  She is not a Society beauty and yet Manet has afforded her all his time to depict her beautifully in this portrait.  The first thing that strikes you about this young woman is her red hair.   We do not see the flowing locks we knew she had as her hair is held in place by a blue ribbon bow.  Her eyelashes are much lighter than the colour of her hair.  They are almost blonde and are somewhat difficult to detect.  There is a strange blankness about her expression.  It is a look of indifference.  Her lips are pressed tightly together.  She has a square jaw and a cleft chin.  We look at her face and wonder what she was thinking when Manet was painting her portrait.  Her forehead and left cheek are lit by an external light source which comes from her right.

During the time she was Manet’s model, she also worked as a model for Manet’s artist friends, Edgar Degas and the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens who it is rumoured would later become her lover.  The Manet-Victorine Meurent partnership ended shortly after the artist had completed The Railway.  Victorine, by then, had taken up formal art lessons and her love of art leaned towards academic art which was anathema to Manet and may have caused the two to go their own separate ways.  In 1876 she had her self portrait exhibited at the 1876 Salon.  This was the same Salon that rejected two of Manet’s works, The Laundress and The Artist.  Manet was so annoyed by that decision that he opened his studio to the public to exhibit the refused paintings and other works.  Three years later in 1879 Victorine Meurent had her painting, Bourgeoise de Nuremberg au XVIe siècle, accepted at the Salon.  This time Manet’s works, Boating and The Greenhouse were also accepted for the exhibition.  Victorine managed to have her works accepted at six different annual Salons.

Victorine remained and worked in Paris, but times got harder for her and there is no doubt that she was suffering financial hardship.  In total desperation, it is said that in August 1883, five months after Manet’s death, she approached Manet’s widow for financial help.  She told Madame Manet that her late husband, Édouard, had promised to provide her with some money if he ever was successful in selling the paintings for which she had posed. At the time Victorine had declined Manet’s offer but had told him that she would remind him of it once her career as an artist’s model was over. Her appeal for money to Manet’s widow fell on barren ground and Victorine was never recompensed.   According to Édouard Manet’s biographer, Adolphe Tabarant, Victorine, in the 1890’s spent a lot of time around Montmartre drinking heavily, and telling stories about her and Manet to anybody who would listen to her and buy her a drink.   It would appear that things got somewhat better for Victorine for in 1893 as it is recorded that  she was again exhibiting her artwork, this time at the Palais de l’Industrie.

In 1903, aged 59 she was made a member of the Société des Artistes Français.     Three years later she left central Paris and moved to the northern suburb of Colombes where she lived with a friend, Marie Dufour.  The local census records show that Marie Dufour worked at different times as a secretary and a piano teacher and Victorine was listed as an artist.  Meurent died on March 17, 1927 aged 83.  After the death of Marie Dufour, in 1930, the contents of the house were liquidated; in the late 20th century, elderly neighbours recalled the last contents of the house, including a violin and its case, being burnt on a bonfire.

Many rumours still surround the life of Victorine Meurent.  She was rumoured to have plumbed the depths through drink and unsavoury tales abound regarding her sexual habits and her sexuality but I would rather just think of her as Manet’s muse and inspiration who, as a young girl, became part of some of his greatest works of art.

Advertisements

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès (1874)

I had intended this offering to be my previous blog but when I researched into today’s featured artist and her painting I saw there was a connection between this work of hers and a similar one completed by Renoir in that same year.  My Daily Art Display featured artist today is Eva Gonzalès and the work I want to look at is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) which she completed in 1874.

Eva Gonzalès was born in Paris in 1849.  Her father was the novelist and playwright, Emmanuel Gonzalès, a Spaniard but naturalised French.  Her mother was a Belgian musician.  From her childhood she was immersed in the literary world as her parents house was often used as a meeting place for critics and writers.

Eva began her artistic career in 1865, at the age of sixteen, when she began to study art.  Initially she studied under Charles Joshua Chaplin, the French society portraitist, who ran art classes specifically for women in his atelier and who, the following year, would teach the American female artist Mary Cassatt.

Portrait of Eva Gonzalès by Manet

Just before her twentieth birthday in 1869 she became a pupil of Édouard Manet and also used to model for him and many of the other Impressionist artists.  It was whilst at his studio that she met Berthe Morisot who was also working with Manet and posing for some of his works.  There would seem to have been an intense  rivalry between the two females.  According to Anne Higonnet’s book Berthe Morisot, Morisot wrote to her sister about Gonzalès and Manet’s attitude towards her saying:

“… Manet preaches at me and offers me the inevitable Mlle Gonzalès as an example; she has bearing, perseverance, she knows how to carry something through, whereas I am not capable of anything.   In the meantime, he begins her portrait again for the twenty-fifth time; she poses every day, and every evening her head is washed out with black soap.  Now that’s encouraging when you ask people to model…”

Repose by Édouard Manet

One can easily detect Berthe Morisot’s jealousy of Eva Gonzalès in that passage.  The painting referred to by Berthe Morisot was entitled Portrait of Eva Gonzalès which Manet was working on and which he exhibited in the 1870 Salon.  It is now housed at the National Gallery, London.  At the same time that he was painting the portrait of Eva Gonzalès he was also painting a work entitled Repose which was a portrait of Morisot and which he also exhibited at the 1870 Salon, as almost a companion piece.  This portrait of Morisot can be seen in the Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island.  As you can see by the passage above, Morisot was annoyed by Manet’s painting of Gonzalès.   What rankled Morisot the most was probably how Manet had portrayed the two young ladies.    So what could have annoyed Morisot about Manet’s depiction of her?  Look at the two paintings.  Both young women, both wear similar clothing, both have been portrayed as young and pretty but the one big difference is that Morisot is depicted half laying back on the sofa in what one could describe as a languid and idle pose whereas Eva is portrayed as a budding artist actively at work.   What also should be kept in mind is that Morisot did not look upon herself as merely a “pupil” of Manet.  For Morisot,  her relationship with Manet was almost as equals rather than master and pupil.  In her relationship with Manet, she was also much more forceful and self-confident than Gonzalès, who was more of a willing disciple of Manet and who would put up with Manet’s abrupt manner,  whilst continually absorbing his teaching.   Of course there was another significant difference between the two young women – age!   Eva was more than eight years younger than Morisot.

Unlike Morisot, but like her mentor Manet, Eva Gonzalès decided not to exhibit any of her work at the controversial Impressionist Exhibitions but she has always been grouped with them because of her painting style.   However, she did regularly have her work shown at the annual Salon exhibitions in the 1870’s.  Her works received mixed comments.  The critics who were supporters of the Impressionist artist liked her work.

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzalès in Profile by Eva Gonzalès

In 1869 Eva married Henri Charles Guérard, an etcher, lithographer  and printmaker, who was a close friend and sometime-model for Édouard Manet and who modelled for some of his wife’s paintings along with his sister-in-law Jeanne (La femme en rose, Jeanne Gonzelès).  In 1883, a month after her 34th birthday, she gave birth to a son, John.  Sadly, her life was cut short when she died following complications of childbirth.  It was believed to have been Puerperal Fever.    Her death came just six days after the death of her one-time mentor Édourad Manet.   Two years after her death a retrospective of Gonzalès’ work was held at the Salons de La Vie Moderne in Paris where over eighty of her paintings were put on display.

Five years later, in 1888, Henri-Charles Guérard  married Eva’s younger sister, Jeanne Gonzalès, also an artist.   My featured painting by Eva Gonzalès is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) and you can obviously see the similarity between her painting and my previous offering entitled La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  I decided to feature his first and then let you compare her painting with his.

As I discussed in my last blog, the auditorium of a  theatre and especially the theatre box were fashionable places for an exchange of society chit-chat and gave the theatregoers the opportunity to be seen at their best.  The subject of the theatre and theatre goers was a subject frequently chosen by the Impressionists, such as Cassatt and Degas but probably the most celebrated of this genre was Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) and it is interesting to compare it with this work by Eva Gonzalès which she completed in the same year, 1874.  This painting by Gonzalès was submitted to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but was refused.   Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and five years later submitted it to the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted.  The critics loved the work.

There are some similarities to this painting of hers and that of her former tutor Édouard Manet in the way she, like him, chose to paint a modern-day subject and the way her painting, like some of his, shows a total contrast between the light colours of the clothing of the subject and the pale creamy skin of the female and the dark background.   In stark contrast to the dark velvet edge of the box , we see her white-gloved hand with its gold bracelet casually resting along it.   There is also an uncanny similarity between the bouquet of flowers that rests on the edge of the theatre box to the left of the woman in Gonzalès’ painting and the bouquet of flowers which Manet depicted in his painting, Olympia (see My Daily Art Display October 12th 2011).  The two people who were sitters for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne who as I said before was to become Henri’s second wife.

As was the case in Renoir’s painting we are left to our own devices as to what is going on within the theatre box. We need to make up our own minds as to what the relationship is between the man and the woman and to their social standing in society.  There is little symbolism to help us interpret the scene.  We just have to use our own imagination and sometimes that adds to the joy os looking at a work of art.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot

Although I could write numerous blogs about Berthe Morisot and her works, this is not a Berthe Morisot site and therefore after today’s offering I will drag myself away from this talented artist and head for pastures new.  However today I want to focus on Berthe Morisot, her husband and her daughter and have a look at a couple of her paintings which portray the happy family.

As I wrote in my last blog, in 1868, Berthe Morisot had been introduced to Édouard Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour whilst she was working as a copyist at the Louvre.  Over time the Morisot and the Manet family became close friends and would exchange visits to each other’s houses and during this time Berthe became acquainted with Édouard Manet’s brothers, Gusatve and Eugène.

When her sister Edma married Adolphe Pontillon in 1869 she moved to Lorient and gave up painting.   For her, and despite having exhibited at four Salons, she considered her marriage was far more important than any thoughts she may have had of an artistic career. She was determined to channel all her energy into her marriage, playing the role of a supporting wife to her naval officer husband and being a loving and devoted mother to their children.  On the other hand, Berthe on her marriage to Eugène Manet in December 1874 was adamant that the change in her marital status would not affect her art.  She continued to paint as prolifically as before and kept signing her works in her maiden name.  In many ways she was fortunate that Eugène’s attitude to her work was one of support and often when Berthe set off on painting trips he would accompany her and dabble a little in art himself by making a few sketches.  Berthe was also fortunate not to have any money worries and this allowed her to pursue her artistic career without being anxious about where the next centime was coming from.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight by Berthe Morisot (1875)

My Daily Art Display featured painting today, which is housed in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, is entitled Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and is one which Berthe Morisot completed in 1875 when she and her husband spent the summer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on their honeymoon.  This, at the time, was a favoured holiday destination for the English high society.  They visited the town of Rye several times before they moved on to London.  Whilst on the Isle of Wight Berthe spent most of her time painting.  Often she and Eugène would be seen leaving their lodgings carrying easels and paint boxes which they would position at some site of natural beauty and spend the day recording the beauty of the island.   Often Berthe would set up her easel in their hotel room and paint what they could see from their window.  Today’s work is an example of just that.  She managed to persuade Eugène, with some difficulty, to pose for her looking out of the window.   She wrote to Edma about the problems of getting her husband to pose, saying:

“…I began something in the sitting room with Eugène; poor Eugène is taking your place; but he is a much less accommodating model; he’s quickly had enough…”

The view from the window is of the port of Cowes but the painting is all about her husband Eugène Manet and the little cottage garden in front of the residence.  It is interesting to observe how Morisot has painted the window panes and the gauze curtains to convey transparency.  The flowers in the garden and the potted plants on the window sill add a dash of colour but in the main Morisot has used muted greys, blacks and blues in her work.  There is a grid-like structure to the painting with the vertical and horizontal lines of the window frame, window sill and garden fencing as well as Eugène’s boater.  Apparently Morisot found it quite difficult to paint this kind of picture and found the task both frustrating and in some ways depressing.  This again is an example of Morisot’s perfectionism and the problems inherent in that state of mind.  She wrote to Edma about the work saying:

“…The view from my window is very pretty to see, very ugly to paint; views from above are almost always incomprehensible; the upshot is that I am not doing very much, and the little I do looks frightful…”

Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot (1883)

In November 1878, almost four years after Eugène and Berthe married, Berthe gave birth to a daughter, Julie, who was to be their one and only child.  Berthe featured her daughter prominently in many of her future paintings as did her sisters and family members.  I particularly like the painting she did in 1883, entitled Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden.  The setting is the garden on the Bougival estate where they were staying that summer.  Unlike some of her works which also featured her husband and daughter, this painting depicts a more private world of Eugène and Julie.  Eugène is dressed casually in an artist’s smock with a straw hat atop his head.  Julie, dressed in her light blue summer dress, sits by the pond watching her tiny red sailing boat drifting on the water.  There is no sign of their house in the painting but the natural setting enhances the loving father/daughter relationship.   Morisot had always intended the painting to be a private family work and no doubt for that very reason she never exhibited it during her lifetime.  It was not seen by the public until 1896, a year after her death.  The work was one of her daughter’s particular favourites,  as Julie commented on the scene with her father saying:

“..he gazes with a father’s eyes on the little blonde girl in a white dress who is intent on getting boats to move around the pond…”

I will now leave the life and paintings of Morisot for a little while but will undoubtedly return to showcase some of her other beautiful work at a later date.  If you are interested in Berthe Morisot and her life I suggest you read Berthe Morisot by Anne Higonnet, which gives a fascinating insight into Berthe Morisot’s life, her family and the people she mixes with.  It is a great read.

Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) by Berthe Morisot

Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) by Berthe Morisot (1870)
” Your daughters have such inclinations…they will become painters. Do you realize what that means? In your environment of the upper middle class this will be a revolution, I might almost say a catastrophe.   Are you sure that you will never curse the day that art will become the only master of destiny of your two children? “

That was the question Joseph Guichard, art tutor of Berthe and Edma Morisot, asked their mother.  Did she really want her two daughters to strive to become professional artists?  In that era, although artistic ability and aptitude were encouraged of young ladies there was a definite line between the professional and the amateur artist and it was a line which was both very precise and thickly drawn.  Women could spend their time “playing” at art as amateurs but for a woman to want to become a professional artist was often both derided and frowned upon.   Their mother, Marie Cornélie Morisot, however, was adamant that the girls should carry on with their chosen careers even if it meant they had to perform twice as well as their male counterparts just to get recognised as professional painters.  Berthe and Edma’s parents were very supportive and gave constructive encouragement to the painting aspirations of their daughters.  Their father had a studio built in the garden for Edma and Berthe to work in and his wife made sure that she went to all of their exhibitions where she carefully listened in on the viewers’ comments, and reported her findings back to the girls.

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog, the twelve-year painting partnership of the two sisters came to an end in early 1869 when Edma Morisot married a naval officer, Adolphe Pontillon.  There was a close relationship between the two Morisot sisters, both in their personal and artistic lives. Only two examples of Edma Morisot’s work survives, one is an 1863 portrait of her sister Berthe at work which was the featured painting in my last blog (My Daily Art Display, April 9th 2012).   Whether it was Edma’s marriage to Pontillon in 1869 or the start of the Franco-Prussian War the following year but something caused Berthe to seriously review both her personal and artistic life.  Although her sister had married and decided to forego her art, Berthe decided that she would stay single and concentrate on her artistic career.  Berthe was a perfectionist and was continually evaluating her work and, if anything, she was utterly self-critical and constantly questioned the value of what she had painted, and this was despite having her works accepted by the jurists of the Paris Salon.

Berthe Morisot was a copyist at the Louvre and it was here one day in 1868 that she met the French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour, who in turn introduced her to the painter, Édouard Manet.  Berthe was soon persuaded to become one of Manet’s models and during their long and close friendship he painted no fewer than eleven portraits of her. Édouard Manet was one of the new generation of artists who was unhappy with the Salon and the way the jurists held sway over what paintings would be allowed into the Salon’s  annual exhibitions.  Two of his works put forward to the jurists of the Salon had caused controversy.    His paintings Olympia (My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) and Le Déjeunier Sur L’herbe (My Daily Art Display Dec 23rd 2010)  were controversial enough for them to be excluded from being exhibited at the Salon and in an act of retaliation, he chose to enter them into his own exhibition, in which he made his work The Balcony the main attraction.  This 1869 work featured a number of people on a balcony, one of who was Berthe Morisot, whom he had persuaded to pose for the work.  Berthe Morisot became friendly with the Manet family and the Morisot and Manet families socialised regularly.  Six years later Berthe Morisot married Eugène Manet, Édouard’s younger brother.

Edma Pontillon, née Morisot,  became pregnant with her first child at the end of 1869 and for a time that winter she returned to the family home to receive some comfort and support from her family whilst she waited for the birth of her first child.  For My Daily Art Display featured oil on canvas painting today, I am going back to that winter of 1869 and the return of the pregnant Edma Morisot to the family household.  It was during that stay that Berthe painted her mother and sister sitting together.  The painting, completed in 1870, is entitled Portrait of Cornélie Morisot and Edmé Pontillon (Mother and Sister of the Artist) and was one of her largest works which now hangs at the NGA Washington.   

It is a family portrait and in it she has portrayed her mother, Marie-Cornélie Morisot, reading whilst her sister, Edma, sits close by, within the family’s drawing room. We see the mother is concentrating upon reading her book and looks as if she is oblivious to her daughter’s presence.  Edma is portrayed with a dazed expression, in an almost dream like state, totally in a world of her own.  Again,  as I have asked on other occasions, look at the face of the daughter, what do you detect from her expression?  Why has her sister depicted her in this way?  To me her facial expression is a study of contemplation, almost meditation.   Maybe she is lost in thought with the arrival of her first child and considering what her future life will be like. Maybe her mother is reading out aloud and she is simply concentrating on her mother’s words.   Is Edma a young mother-to-be?  Look at her.  What age would you think she is?  Barely out of her teens or in her early twenties?  She in fact is not as young as her sister has depicted her as she was born in 1839 and at the time of the painting had had her thirtieth birthday.  The pure white colour of Edma’s dress is voluminous enough to hide the fact that she is pregnant,  as at the time Berthe, no doubt, had thoughts of having the work accepted for the Salon and she probably realised that depicting a pregnant woman would not please the jurists.  The virginal-white colour of Edma’s dress contrasts with the black one worn by her mother, who could be still in mourning for the death of her own mother, Marie-Caroline (Mayniel) Thomas earlier that year.

The painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1870 and it is thought that she also included it in the first exhibition held by the Impressionist painters in 1874.  The lead-up to Berthe putting forward the painting to the Salon jurists is an interesting tale, as the ever self deprecating Morisot was in two minds whether to even exhibit it.  In the end she approached Édouard Manet for his advice as to whether to submit the work.  He called at the Morisot household on the deadline day for Salon submissions to inspect the painting.  In one of Berthe’s letters she wrote about this inspection and told how Manet said nothing but instead extensively repainted the figure of the mother!  Berthe was mortified by what Manet had done and now wondered even more whether she should submit the painting to the Salon jurists.  She told her mother what had happened and of her dilemma with whether to exhibit the work as now it had been partly done by Manet, saying that she would “rather be at the bottom of the sea” than for this picture to appear at the Salon.  She went on to describe to her mother what had happened when Manet started to touch-up her work:

“…it isn’t possible to stop him; he passes from the petticoat to the bodice, from the bodice to the head, from the head to the background.”

She did put it forward for the Salon exhibition and it was well received.

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot (1865)

For the next few blogs I want to look at the life and works of Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot and some of the paintings other artists have done of her.  As I told you in my last offering I visited the Musée Marmottan Monet last week whilst in Paris and they were currently staging a retrospective of her work.  I have already featured one of her works, Le Bercau (The Cradle) in My Daily Art Display of August 10th 2011 and briefly told you about her life.  Today I am going to look again at her early life and feature a painting, not by the artist herself,  but a stunningly portrait of her, painted by her sister, Edma.

The world of French art between 1839 and 1841 was surely blessed as it was in that two-year period that the world witnessed the birth of four of the greatest French artists.  Paul Cezanne was born in January 1839, Claude Monet was born in November 1840 and Berthe Morisot and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were born in January and February 1841 respectively.  Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, a city in central France.  She had distant roots in French art as she was an indirect and distant descendent on her father’s side of none other than the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and the French 18th century female painter, Marguerite Gérard.  Berthe was one of four children.  She had two sisters, Marie-Elizabeth Yves born in 1838, known simply as Yves and Marie Edma Caroline born in 1839, known simply as Edma.  She also had a younger brother, Tiburce, born in1848.  Berthe was brought up in a successful and financially secure household.  Her mother was Marie-Cornélie Thomas, who came from a family of high level government officials, chief treasurers and paymasters of the province.   Her father was Edmé-Tiburce Morisot, who was an architectural graduate and who at the age of twenty-six founded an architectural journal.  However the venture collapsed when his co-founders absconded with all the money and left Tiburce to face the creditors.  He eventually had to hurriedly leave town, leaving all his furniture and possessions to his landlord in lieu of rent, and fled to Greece.  A year later in 1835 he returned to France penniless but his good looks and charm won him the hand of Marie-Cornélie in marriage.  She was sixteen years old and he was thirteen years older.   Marie’s father, who was the personnel director at the Ministry of Finance, managed to arrange employment for Tiburce Morisot as subprefect at the city of Yssingeaux, in the Haute-Loire region.  Tiburce worked hard and soon impressed his employers.  Promotions followed and at the time of his daughter Berthe’s birth, he was the prefect of the Department of Cher, the monarch’s chief administrator for the entire province.

In 1848 when Berthe was just seven years of age, because of the Third French Revolution which eventually led to the creation of the French Second Republic, Berthe’s father decided to move his family from Bourges to the Parisian suburb of Passy.   When Berthe was aged sixteen years of age, her mother, Marie-Cornélie Morisot decided to enrol her three daughters in private drawing classes.  At that time the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts would not admit female students and maintained that sexist doctrine until the last few years of the nineteenth century.  The sisters’ first tutor was Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne who taught the girls the fundamentals of drawing.  Yves love of art waned quickly and she gave up on her art tuition after a few months leaving just Edma and Berthe to carry on with their artistic studies.

Edma and Berthe then enrolled to study with Joseph Guichard, who had once been a student of Ingres and now lived in the same street in Passy as the Morisot family.  Guichard taught the girls all about classical art in the academic tradition.  He was there tutor from 1857 and 1860 and in 1858 Berthe registered as a copyist at the Louvre.  It was under the guidance of Guichard that Berthe Morisot first experimented in oil painting.  En plein-air,  painting outdoors in natural light,  became very important to the Impressionist painters and those from the Barbizon School and the two girls told Guichard that they wanted to learn more about that technique and so, in 1863, in consultation with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a leader of the Barbizon School of painters it was arranged that the girls would study under Achille Oudinot, the French landscape painter.  In the spring of 1864 after seven years of intensive artistic training Berthe and Edma Morisot were admitted to the official Salon.  Berthe would exhibit at the Salon regularly and Edma would until her marriage in 1869 at which time she virtually gave up painting.

It is said that behind every great woman, there is another woman, often a close relative.  In nineteenth century England we saw it with the likes of the talented Bronte sisters who had each other for constructive critical support.  Although Morisot’s upbringing in a wealthy household bears no resemblance to the upbringing of the Bronte sisters,what she did have in her formative years, similar to the Bronte sisters, was the luxury of having a very loyal and supportive sister.  Standing unwaveringly behind Berthe was her sister Edma.  The sisters’ artistic collaboration came to an end in 1869, when Edma married her husband, Adolphe Pontillon, a naval officer.  In some ways Edma regretted the end of their artistic partnership and the close friendship which came with it.  They kept in contact by letter and in one Edma wrote:

“…I am often with you in thought, dear Berthe.  I’m in your studio and I like to slip away, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe that atmosphere that we shared for many years…”

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets by Édouard Manet (1872)

And so I come to today’s featured painting.  There have been many portraits painted of Berthe Morisot , probably the best known being the one of her entitled, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets which was painted by her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet in 1872 and which is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  I have always thought that his has made her look rather dowdy, so today I have featured one of my two favourite portraits of the artist.  This one is simply entitled Berthe Morisot and was painted by her sister Edma in 1865 and is held in a private collection.  This beautiful portrait in some ways bears out the close relationship between the sisters and reveals the shared interest both had in painting.  In this work Edma has depicted her sister Berthe holding her palette and brush concentrating earnestly at the picture she is painting.  Look how well Edma has captured the intensity in Berthe’s expression.  Our eyes are immediately drawn to the face of Berthe, which is bathed in light and which contrasts well with the darkened background and also echoes the whites of the side of the canvas and the rag she holds.  This painting of Berthe Morisot depicts her indisputable beauty which often other portraits fail to achieve.  This is indeed a portrait of an extremely delightful young woman in her mid-twenties and one I fell in love with when I first saw it.

Music in the Tuileries Gardens by Édouard Manet

Music in the Tuileries by Édouard Manet (1862)

In my last blog I looked at the painting Afternoon at the Tuileries Garden by Adolph Menzel which he completed in 1867.  He had visited Paris that year and attended the second Exposition Universelle and it was during this stay that he completed a number of sketches of the Tuileries Gardens.  On returning to his home in Berlin he completed this  work.  When it was exhibited, he pointed out that the painting was all done from his memory of the times when he walked around the Gardens watching the weekend promenading of the bourgeois.  However,  there is a train of thought that believes his work was not just based on his memories but was very much influenced by a painting he saw, when in Paris, by Édouard Manet, which was completed in 1862 entitled Music in the Tuileries Gardens.  This is My Daily Art Display featured work today and I will let you decide whether Manet’s painting had any bearing on Menzel’s work.

Music in the Tuileries Garden,s like the Menzel work, hangs, in the National Gallery, London.  The work depicts a fashionable Parisian crowd promenading and socialising in the Gardens as they listen to music played by a band, albeit Manet has not included the musicians in the painting.  The Jardin des Tuileries lies between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, and it was the favourite place for people to idle away their leisure time.   The way in which people spent their free time in the capital became one of Manet’s favourite subjects for his paintings.  Manet’s close friend going back to his childhood,  Antonin Proust, the politician and journalist, often recalled the many times he witnessed Manet walking along the Parisian boulevards in search of interesting aspects of city life, which he could depict in his paintings. Manet and his companion, the poet, Charles Beaudelaire,  could often be seen in the afternoons, strolling through the Tuileries Gardens, a favoured gathering place for the beau monde, who wanted “to see and be seen”.  Manet completed numerous sketches of these “beautiful people” as well as the working nannies, who were spending a pleasant afternoon with their little charges.

This was Manet’s first major work on this theme.  The Tuileries Gardens were created for Catherine de Medici who, on the death of her husband King Henry II of France, decided to move her home to the Louvre Palace.  She then had built a separate new palace with gardens modelled after the gardens of her native Florence.  These were the Tuileries Gardens and were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park following the French Revolution.  As we look at the people in the scene we can imagine the enjoyment they were having whilst they socialised and listened to the music.  Leisure time and recreational activities such as listening to music in a park on a Sunday afternoon was all part of this newly quoted term, modernity.

Manet's man
Menzel's man

Menzel’s work is far more detailed than Manet’s painting.  If we compare the two works there are some similarities but Menzel also maintained some differences.     Both depict families enjoying their leisure time.  Look at foreground and slightly right of centre of today’s painting by Manet.  There is a man with the top hat bending down in conversation with a lady.   He is almost the same character, in the same pose leaning against a tree, we saw yesterday in Menzel’s work.  The theme of both paintings is similar – bourgeois Parisians at leisure but as I have just said there are also some differences in the two works.  Menzel’s depiction of what is happening is somewhat more realistic.

Manet's children
Menzel's children

In his work we saw children in the foreground playing with a bucket and spades but they are not dressed in their “Sunday best” clothes and look somewhat dirtied by their playing on the ground. Now compare that with the children in Manet’s painting.  They too have buckets and spades but these children,  like their adult counterparts , are dressed in their best clothes and are behaving much more demurely.   Also in Menzel’s work we witnessed a small child being dragged off screeching by a woman, probably her mother.  We also saw dogs skirmishing but in Manet’s work there is no such unsavoury incidents happening, which would otherwise shatter the beautiful tranquillity of the scene.

Manet has included the portraits of many of his friends into the lively social gathering, some of whom are fellow artists.  Manet has painted himself at the far left of the painting partly hidden by the figure of Comte Albert de Balleroy, the wildlife artist, seen here holding a walking stick, who shared a studio with Manet.  Another artist also included is Henri Fantin-Latour, best known for his flower paintings.  Manet has added portraits of his brother Eugène, who was the husband of the Impressionist painter, Berthe Morissot.  Several cultural figures of the time are featured in the painting such as the French poets Baudelaire and Théopile Gautier and the travel writer Baron Taylor.  Other intellectuals who have found their way into the painting are the art critic Champfleury and the bearded sculptor Zacharie Astruc who sits at the table and behind him stands the journalist Aurélien Scholl.  Two women sit facing us in the foreground.  The younger of the two, on the left, is Madame Lejosne, the wife of the Commandant in whose house Manet met Baudelaire and the fledgling painter Frederic Bazille.  The other lady is Heminie d’Alcain, the wife of Jacques Offenbach.  Offenbach is the bespectacled man with a moustache who sits in front of a tree to the right of centre of the middle ground, between Eugène Manet and the painter, Charles Monginot who we see doffing his hat to a lady .

Menzel’s work was far more detailed and with his painting your eyes darted from place to place surveying different incidents.  In some ways this painting, by Manet, as did Cezanne’s Large Bathers ( My Daily Art Display March 13th))have an “unfinished” look about them but this is all to do with their style of painting.  So what did the critics think of this work by Manet when it was first exhibited in 1863?   It received very mixed reviews.   On one hand, many of the artists who were soon to be known as the Impressionists, like Claude Monet and Frederic Bazille, were delighted with   Manet’s depiction of the Parisian scene.  However the conservatives among the art critics were less than complimentary.   Paul Mantz, the art historian and  art critic, who would later become Director General of Fine Arts and a member of Supreme Council of Fine Arts was particularly ruthless in his condemnation stating that Manet’s composition struck him as being disorganised and formless, while the broken play of light that animates its surface with such an eloquently restless quality roused him to declare that “this is not colour, but the caricature of colour”.

I have had a number of comments added to the Large Bathers blog strongly disagreeing with my assertion that Cezanne’s work had an unfinished look to it and therefore I will not dare comment about the finish of this work.   Emile Zola explained the “unfinished” look of Manet’s painting, countering such criticism, saying:

“…You are to imagine a crowd of people, a hundred characters perhaps, moving about in the sunlight under the trees in the Tuileries; every character is simply a blot of colour, hardly given form at all, and the details are only lines and black dots. If I had been there I should have asked the amateur [observer of the painting] to move away to a respectful distance; he would then have seen that the patches of colour were alive, that the crowd was speaking, and that the picture was one of the characteristic productions of the artist, the one picture in fact in which he had most loyally obeyed his eyes and his temperament…”

As with most of the Impressionist works of art, the best view you get is if you stand back from the work to see its exquisiteness.  Close up one just sees brushstrokes but at a distance one discovers the true beauty of the work.

So which painting do you like best, the one by Adolph Menzel or the one by Édouard Manet?

Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet

My next two blogs deal not with a particular painting but with the subject of a series of paintings completed lovingly by one artist.  The subject is Camille-Léonie Doncieux, who was the beloved model, mistress and wife of Claude Monet.  In 1861, Monet had enlisted as a soldier in the Chasseurs d’Afrique regiment and spent two years in Algeria.  His military life came to an end in 1863 because he had fallen ill with fever.  He went back to Paris where he studied at the atelier of the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre and it was during this time that he met up with the artists Sisley, Bazille and Renoir, who would later join together with others and become known as the Impressionists..

Camille Doncieux was born in 1846 and met the impoverished but talented painter, Claude Monet, for the first time in 1865 when she was just eighteen years of age.  She came from an ordinary unprivileged background.  She fell in love with him, leaving her home to live with the talented 25-year-old painter who struggled to sell his work. People called her La Monette.  Everyone she met fell under her spell.   It was recorded that she was a ravishingly good-looking girl with dark hair, very graceful, full of charm and kindness.  Monet, her future husband, was struck by her beauty and described her eyes as being wonderful.    It was not long after they met that she began modeling for him and soon became his favourite model.  His professional interest in her soon became personal and the two soon became lovers.   The first time we come across Camille in a painting by Monet was in a study for his ill-fated work Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Study for Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1865/6)

In 1863, Édouard Manet had exhibited his painting Déjeuner sur l’Herbe at the Salon des Refusés (see My Daily Art Display, December 23rd 2010).   The critics and public were shocked by the work and Manet’s depiction of a nude woman seated with a pair of clothed men in a landscape setting.    Monet, who was known for his competitive streak decided to paint his own version of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe in the spring of 1865. This audacious venture would culminate in putting it forward for an exhibition at the Salon of 1866.  Following outdoor studies he made in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he immediately headed back to his nearby studio at Chaillyen-Bière and started to make preparatory sketches for what would be his mammoth canvas measuring an unbelievable 4.5 metres x 6 metres.  In one of his preparatory sketches, which he did in oil entitled Bazille and Camille (study for Déjeuner sur l’Herbe) we see Camille Doncieux and Monet’s fellow artist friend Frédéric Bazille.   Ultimately the painting was not a success. Monet was unable to finish it in time for the 1866 Salon and eventually abandoned the work. He left it, rolled up, with his landlord as part payment for rent he owed but it became damp and all that now remains are fragments of the work and some preparatory studies. The experience did, however, contribute to Monet’s realisation that to portray the brief moment in time, he would have to work on a much smaller scale.

La Femme à la Robe Verte by Monet (1866)

The next time we see Camille is in a painting Monet exhibited in the 1866 Salon.  The work was entitled Camille or Woman in a Green Dress and now hangs in the Kunsthalle, in Bremen.  After his disastrous attempt to emulate Manet with his painting of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe this work of his gained him critical acclaim.  Rumour had it that in his rush to meet the Salon deadline he completed the work in four days but one must doubt that assertion.  It is not strictly a portrait of Camille.  It is all about the dress.  She was simply his model for the painting.  The first thing which strikes one as we look at the work is the colour of the promenade dress which had probably been borrowed for the occasion.  Monet loved colour and the green he has used is awesome.  It dominates the painting and even detracts from the woman herself.  This is not about Camille but on the dress she wears and how it hangs.  The painting reminds one of a photograph out of a fashion shoot for a fashion magazine when the clothes are the important thing and not the model.  Look how the background is undefined.  It is simply plain and dark.  Monet had decided that nothing should deflect our gaze from the woman and her dress.  I like how Camille is just raising her right hand towards her face as if the picture has captured her just about to do something, a fleeting gesture, and we are left guessing as to what.  Maybe she is adjusting the ribbon of her bonnet.  The painting was accepted by the Salon jury and hung in their 1866 exhibition.    It was an immediate hit with both the art critics of the time and the public and the Paris newspapers called Camille the Parisian Queen.

One amusing anecdote about this painting was the story that Monet’s signature on the painting had been mistaken by many viewers for that of Manet, who had entered the Salon to a chorus of acclaim for his supposed work.  Monet told this story to the newspaper Le Temps:

“….imagine the consternation when he discovered that the picture about which he was being congratulated was actually by me !   The saddest part of all was that on leaving the Salon he came across a group which included Bazille and me.  ‘How goes it?’ one of them asked.  ‘Awful,’ replied Manet, ‘I am disgusted.  I have been complimented on a painting which is not mine’…….”

Camille au Petit Chien by Monet (1866)

That same year Monet produced a hauntingly beautiful and intimate portrait of his lover entitled Camille with a Little Dog, which is in a private collection.  We see Camille sitting side-on to us in quite a formal pose.  This is one of the few paintings of her by Monet that looks closely at her.  Once again as was the case in the Woman in a Green Dress, the background is plain and dark and in no way serves as a reason for taking our eyes off Camille.  We are not to be distracted from her beauty.  This painting is all about Camille.  It is interesting how Monet has painted the figure of the dog simply by thick brush strokes.  At a distance it looks like a dog but if you stand close up to the painting you can see it is just a mass of brush strokes.  However Monet has not treated the painting of Camille’s face with the same quick thick strokes of his brush.  She has been painted with delicate precision.  Monet did not want to depict the love of his life with hastily swishes of a brush. He took pains in her appearance.  This was a labour of love.

Luncheon by Monet (1868)

In 1867 Monet’s lover Camille gave birth to their son Jean.  A year later, during the winter of 1868, Monet started on his painting entitled Luncheon, which can be seen at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Franfurt.   This family, which now included their son Jean, were staying in Étretat at the house of a patron, where Monet had taken refuge from his Parisian creditors and critics.  It is a large highly detailed oil on canvas painting measuring 230cms x 150cms.   It is simplistic in its subject.  Before us we have sitting at the dining table Camille and her blonde-haired son.  She looks lovingly at him whilst he seems to only have eyes for the food.  A visitor stands with her back to the window and the maidservant is seen leaving the room.  A place is set out ready for her husband to join her at the meal table.  Look how Monet has painted a number of items overlapping the surfaces they are resting on.  On the table we have the loaf of bread, the newspaper and the serviette  all hanging over the cloth which Monet has depicted as being somewhat creased.  In the background we have two books overlapping the edge of the table.  All this in some ways adds to the realism of the painting.  Sunlight pours through the large window to the left of the painting and bathes the well-stocked table in light and by doing so brings it to life.  Monet submitted the painting to the 1870 Salon jury but it was rejected.  Four years later he included the work in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.

to be concluded tomorrow………………………………