Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon: 19th century gems – Part 2.

This is my last blog relating to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the paintings to be found in the Founder’ Collection and I have saved the best till last ! I wanted to take another look at the 19th century collection and choose some of my favourites and explore paintings in other museums which have a connection to those in the Lisbon museum.

The Reading by Henri Fantin-Latour (1870)

Henri Fantin-Latour  was a prolific artist and completed many works including a number of portraits. In his 1870 work, The Reading, we have a dual portrait of two women in a domestic setting, both seated and one of them is depicted reading. The theme of reading was the subject of several of his well-known works. The painting is an example of intimism, a French term applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. It is an every-day scene with a sense of sober realism. It also introduces the observer into his favourite themes, poetic and dreamlike domestic environment with vaguely melancholic undertones. The lady on the left is Victoria Dubourg, a fellow painter whom he met at the Louvre whilst she was copying old masters. She became his wife in 1875.

Charlotte Dubourg by Henri Fantin-Latour (1882)  Musée d’Orsay

Across from her, on the right of the depiction, is her sister Charlotte Dubourg.  Charlotte Dubourg featured in a number of Henri Fantin-Latour’s paintings. This frequent collaboration between artist and muse gave rise to the speculation that Fantin-Latour was fascinated by Charlotte’s mysterious beauty and that there was an unspoken understanding between Fantin-Latour and his sister-in-law, maybe even more!

Two Sisters by Henri Fantin-Latour (1859)

A similar double portrait in an interior setting can be seen at the St Louis Art Museum. This painting was entitled Two Sisters and Fantin-Latour completed the work in 1859 when he was just twenty-two years old. Once again, we have a depiction of two young women in the intimate setting of their home. This double portrait shows the two younger sisters of the painter; Marie reads on the right while Nathalie embroiders on the left. Once again, the interior painting is comprised of subdued grey and brown tones which is counterbalanced by the colourful yarns on the embroidery table. There is also seems to be a disconnect between the two sisters. Had the artist intentionally depicted it in that way ? Natalie, instead of concentrating on her embroidery, has an unsettled expression on her face. Something is troubling her. It could be that her brother, through his depiction of her expression, is hinting about her depressive illness which would soon confine her to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

Boy Blowing Bubbles by Edouard Manet (1867)

The definition of a Vanitas painting is one that contains a single item, but more frequently, collections of symbolic objects, which remind us of the inevitability of death as well as the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. For many artists it was a way to encourage the viewer to consider their own mortality and atone for their transgressions. The next painting I am going to talk about is classified as a Vanitas work but does not have the usual skull or fluttering candle which are often associated with the passing of life in such works. What it does have is a large bubble which is being blown by a young boy. It is the fact that as beautiful as the bubble may appear it will soon burst and the beauty will be forgotten. The painting is entitled Boy Blowing Bubble and it was painted by the French artist, Édouard Manet in 1867. It is now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which acquired it via André Weil in New York November 1943.

Soap Bubbles by Thomas Couture (1859) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1850, Manet enrolled at the rue Laval studio of Thomas Couture and remained one of his students for six years. It could have been his tutor’s 1859 painting entitled Soap Bubbles which gave Manet the idea for this painting.

Portrait de Léon Leenhoff by Édouard Manet (1868).(Musée national, Stockholm)

The painting by Manet was one of a series which featured his illegitimate son Léon Koelin-Leenhoff. Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch-born pianist, had been employed as a music tutor for Édouard and his younger brothers Eugène and Gustave. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was born on January 29th, 1852, the son of Suzanne Leenhoff.  His birth certificate stated Suzanne as his mother and “Koella” as his father. The man named as Koella has never been traced and it is widely believed that Édouard was the boy’s father whilst some even point the finger at Édouard’s father, Auguste, Suzanne’s employer. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was baptised in 1855 and became known as Suzanne’s younger brother. Édouard’s father, Auguste, died in 1862 and in October 1863 Suzanne and Édouard married. Léon featured in a number of Manet’s paintings.

Boy Carrying a Sword by Édouard Manet (1861) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1861, Manet’s employed Suzanne’s nine year old son, Léon Leenhoff , for his painting Boy Carrying a Sword. He posed in a 17th-century Spanish infant costume, holding a full-sized sword and sword belt. The work can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Le déjeuner dans l’atelier (Luncheon in the Studio) by Édouard Manet (1868)

Six years later, in 1868, Léon Leenhoff, now sixteen years of age, appeared in Manet’s painting entitled Le déjeuner dans l’atelier (Luncheon in the Studio). In the summer of 1868 Manet travelled to Boulogne-sur-Mer for his summer vacation, where he worked on this painting. Luncheon in the Studio was staged in the dining room of Manet’s rented house. The title of the painting almost hides the fact that it is a portrait of Léon Koélla Leenhoff. Léon is clearly the main character as he stands “centre stage” in the foreground, leaning against the table. The depiction of Leon is quite interesting. Manet has depicted him as the modern type of dandy, whose self-image plays between arrogance and aloneness. Elegantly dressed in a velvet jacket, confident of his superiority, cool with an air of indifference, he stands with his back to the others. He even avoids eye contact with us and so has an air of aloofness. But is that a fair reading of his character? Maybe his blasé expression hides a hint of sadness.  Behind him we see an older man smoking, seated at the table enjoying a coffee and a digestif, and a woman preparing to serve hot drinks. At one time they were thought to have been Manet and his wife Suzanne but this assertion has since been overturned and the figures are now thought to have been servants. The painting is awash with still-life depictions, such as the weapons on the armchair on the left, a colourful pot of plants on the table in the background and the table with a plethora of food and tableware. The still-life accoutrements we see before us, in particular the partially peeled lemon and the placement of the knife over the table edge were reminiscent of Dutch still-life works of two centuries earlier. The painting is part of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

The Break-Up of the Ice by Claude Monet (1880)

There were a number of Monet paintings in the Founder’s Collection but one I especially liked was entitled The Break-up of the Ice.  France, like most of Europe suffered one of the coldest winters on record in the latter months of 1879.  Monet had been living in Vétheuil, a commune on the banks of the Seine, some sixty kilometres from the French capital from 1878 to 1881 along with his wife, Camille Doncieux and their two sons, Jean and Michel.  They also shared their house with their friends, the Hoschedé family. During that period Monet completed more than one hundred and fifty paintings of the area. The winter of 1879 was so severe that even Monet found working outdoors almost unbearable. However, in early December, a sudden rise in temperature caused the ice on the Seine to crack. Alice Hoschedé, the wife of Monet’s friends, who along with her children were living in Monet’s house, described the resulting thaw as terrifying, as half the melted snow slid down from the hills onto the village. It was at this time that Monet painted scene after scene as the ice floes broke on the river and one of these works was The Break-up of the Ice, which he completed in 1880. In this grim and dismal landscape we see the thawing of the ice on the River Seine in January 1880.

Vetheuil in Winter by Monet (1879) Frick Collection, New York

It is one of a series of eighteen paintings by Monet at this location depicting the severity of the winter. His works were portrayals of the icy beauty of this wintry landscape. These paintings of ice floes chart Monet’s early fascination with capturing the same motif under differing conditions of light and at different times of day. Some, like the Lisbon painting, focused on the ferociousness of the weather and how it can devastate nature as depicted in the fallen trees, while others focused on the beauty of the winter landscape. Monet must have witnessed first-hand the devastation when the frozen Seine river thawed, dislodging large ice floes that inundated the countryside and damaged bridges The finished painting was almost certainly completed in Monet’s studio after having completed a number of plein-air sketches. Look at the simplicity of the depiction of the ice flows using a series of short brushstrokes.

The Break-up of the Ice (La Débâcle or Les Glaçons) by Claude Monet (1880) University of Michigan Museum of Art.

An example of a more peaceful winter landscape at the same spot was also completed in 1880 and was also entitled The Break-up of the Ice and this painting can be found at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. In this painting a sweeping winter river scene opens up from the foreground and sweeps away towards the left. Ice floes dot the river surface and snowy hills frame trees that stand along the riverbank in the middle distance. The palette of this painting is restricted to mauves, blues, greens, and whites.

Lady and Child asleep in a Punt under the Willows by John Singer Sargent (1887)

John Singer Sargent moved from Paris to London in the summer of 1885 as he was struggling to attract patrons, and so he turned to his friends and family for portrait commissions. Singer Sargent may have been introduced to the cousins Robert and Peter Harrison by Alma Strettell as she was a close friend of Sargent and, in 1877, he had illustrated her book, Spanish and Italian Folk Songs. Robert Harrison, a stockbroker and musical connoisseur had married Helen Smith, a daughter of a wealthy Tyneside businessman and politician and the couple went to live Shiplake Court, in the affluent London district of Henley-on-Thames. The Harrisons, like many of Sargent’s patrons, formed part of the high society of late Victorian Britain. Amongst the Gulbenkian’s Founder’s Collection there was an 1887 painting by John Singer Sargent entitled Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt under the Willows. In the summer of 1887 Sargent was invited by his friends Robert and Helen Harrison to spend the season at Shiplake Court. In the painting we see the sleepy figures of Helen Harrison and her son Cecil lying in a punt, under the shade of a willow tree. They are being gently lulled by the movement of a barge which had just passed by. This work is Impressionist in style. Sargent’s Impressionist period came about in the late 1880’s. The painting falls into the category dolce far niente which means the sweetness of doing nothing, a pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness which describes many of his works between 1887 and 1889.

A Backwater at Henley by John Singer Sargent (1880) Baltimore Museum of Art

Another similar work by Singer Sargent is his 1880 painting entitled A Backwater at Henley which is housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Les Bretonnes au Pardon by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, (1887)

The last painting I am showcasing that hangs in the Founder’s Collection is Les Bretonnes au Pardon (Breton Women at a Pardon). It is a fine example of Naturalism in which subjects were connected with the minutely detailed description of urban and rural life. It was an art form which was very popular in the late 1880’s and this work achieved great success for the artist at the 1889 Salon. When I saw this work, I thought it was by Gaugin but in fact the artist, who painted it in 1887, was the French painter, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret. It is a beautifully crafted depiction of a rural tradition, but what also fascinated me was, what is or was a Pardon? The depiction is termed ethnographic, meaning it is relating to the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences. 

The Pardon at Kergoat, portrayed by Jules Breton (1891) Musée des Beaux-Arts Quimper.                The pardon at the Chapel of Kergoat in Quéméneven was one of the most popular pardons because of the virtues of the waters from the nearby fountain. People came from all over Cornouaille, as shown by the presence of people from the Bigouden area. The artist, overawed by the number of beggars and the fervour of the pilgrims, conveys the movement of this procession as it goes around the monumental chapel.

The word “Pardon”, coming from the Latin verb perdonare, to forgive, and is a Breton form of pilgrimage and one of the most traditional expressions of popular Catholicism in Western Brittany.  It dates back to the conversion of the country by the Celtic monks, It is a penitential ceremony. A Pardon occurs on the feast of the patron saint of a church or chapel, at which an indulgence is granted. There are five distinct kinds of Pardons in Brittany: St. Yves at Tréguier – the Pardon of the poor; Our Lady of Rumengol – the Pardon of the singers; St. Jean-du-Doigt – the Pardon of fire; St. Ronan – the Pardon of the mountain; and St. Anne de la Palude – the Pardon of the sea and they all occur between Easter and Michaelmas, a period between March and October. Pilgrims arrive at these Breton Pardon ceremonies dressed in their best costumes which is probably why they make ideal subjects for artists. The day is spent in prayer and after a religious service a great procession takes place around the church. The Pardon in Brittany has practically remained unchanged for over two hundred years. The ceremony is not one focused on feasting or revelry but one focused on veneration where young and old connect with God and his saints in prayer. Brittany at the time was a favourite location for artists such as Paul Gaugain,
Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton and Émile Bernard who were beguiled by the family rituals of the local peasants.

The Pardon in Brittany by Pascal Dragnan-Bouveret (1886) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

It is known that Dagnan-Bouveret used photographs he had taken at the ceremony in the Finistère town of Rumengol in 1886 as an aid to his finished works. He also used portraits he had made of some of his models.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret completed a number of paintings featuring “The Pardon” one of which, The Pardon in Brittany, which is a truly amazing, almost photrealistic depiction of the ceremony. This painting is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Before us we see penitents wearing traditional regional dress proceeding with an air of solemnity as they joylessly parade around a church. Some of the pilgrims go barefoot or kneel in an expression of remorse. What is quite interesting is that on the reverse of the canvas were drawings of his wife which the artist later used for the young woman in the foreground. When the picture was shown at the 1887 Salon and the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, it was hailed a great success by art critics saying they were astounded by its meticulous details. This is almost certainly down to the artist’s use of photographs to help him with the work.

That was final look at the paintings of the Founder’s Collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.  If we ever have the travel restrictions lifted and you find yourself in the Portugeuse capital make sure you pay this museum a visit.  You will not be disappointed.

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.

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………………………………

A Bar at the Folies Bergère by Édouard Manet

A Bar at the Folies Bergère byÉdouard Manet

Yesterday I looked at a painting by the Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz and bemoaned the fact that although I could discover facts about the artist himself, I could find little information about the featured work of art.  I have no such problem with today’s featured painting, A Bar of the Folies Bergère by Édouard Manet.  Much has been written about this enigmatic painting.  This will be the fourth occasion that I have featured one of Manet’s works and so I will not repeat his life story which you can find in my previous blogs (October 11th and 12th and November 9th).  Today in My Daily Art Display I want to simply concentrate on the painting itself.

As I have mentioned on a number of occasions previously, I believe that when you have a limited time in a town and you want to visit an art gallery it is sometimes better to go to a smaller one rather than rushing around a large establishment trying to see everything and failing miserably.  Today’s painting hangs in the Courtauld Gallery in London which in comparison to the National Gallery or the Tate Galleries is somewhat smaller but what its collection lacks in quantity really comes into its own when it comes to quality.   I first visited the Courtauld Gallery when I went to see Cezanne’s Card Players exhibition after which I decided to spend a few hours taking in the gallery’s permanent collection and it was then that I came across this fascinating and famous work by Manet.

The Folies Bergère, as most people know, is a famous Parisian night-club situated in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris, not far from the heart of the post-Haussmann cultural centre of Paris, south of Montmartre, and a little east of the boulevard des Italiens (known simply as The Boulevard).  The venue is located at 32 rue Richer, the same place that once housed a department store called ‘In the Pillars of Hercules’ .   After almost four years, the departmental store went out of business and so in 1867 it was decided that the store should be replaced a public auditorium.  The construction lasted for almost two years and it was the first music-hall to be opened in Paris.   It was based upon an imitation of the Alhambra in London, a music hall known and much-loved for broad comedy, opera, ballet and circus.  It opened in May 1869, a year before the start of the Franco-Prussian War, and is still in business today.  It was originally called the Folies Trévise because it was on the corner of the rue Richer and the rue Trévise but the name was changed in September 1872 because the Duc de Trévise would not allow his name to be brought into such potential notoriety. As the rue Bergère, a road named after a master dyer, was just a couple of blocks away, the decision was made to rename the establishment as the Folies Bergère.  A Folies-Bergère show typically included ballet, acrobatics, pantomime, operetta, animal acts, and many included spectacular special effects. However, the Folies-Bergère was perhaps more well-known for its sensual allures.  It became chic to be seen at the Folies Bergere, so aristocrats and royal families alike came from all over the European continent to claim their coveted seats at the Folies.  Manet’s picture features his friends, both artists and models and was the kind of trendy place in which he spent his evenings.  The painting we see before us was the last great work of art painted by Édouard Manet and was completed in 1882.  At the time Manet was suffering badly from a debilitating disease, brought on by untreated syphilis,  which he was to die from the following year.

So what are we looking at?  The woman in the painting is Suzon a waitress at the establishment, who posed for the picture in Manet’s studio.  When I first glanced at the painting I thought I was simply looking at a woman standing behind a marble-topped bar and behind her were a large throng of people who were enjoying a meal whilst watching the entertainment but in fact what we are looking at is the woman standing between us and a large mirrored wall, the bottom of its gold frame can be seen running the full width of the painting, and it reflects what is actually going on behind us as we stand at the bar.  The young woman, who rests her hands on the counter, wears a greyish blue skirt and a dark velvet jacket with a low-cut lacy collar and has a corsage of pink flowers at her breast.  She has blonde hair which is tied back and wears two small drop-earrings and a gold bangle on the wrist of her right hand. The woman before us is not looked upon as a just a simple bar tender but more than likely falls into the category of a demimondaine.  A demimondaine was a term used to describe a professional mistress who sold her company, affections and body in exchange for being maintained by a patron in a long term relationship.  Later the word became a euphemism for a courtesan or prostitute.  Some art historians have interpreted the main aspect of the painting, the woman, as not only the seller of the bottled products we see on the counter before her but possibly the seller of her own body.

Now cast your eyes to the right of the woman and we see the reflection of the woman, or do we?.  Should we simply believe that we are looking at a mirrored reflection of her?  If Manet has simply drawn her mirrored reflelection, how could it be, as if the mirror is parallel with the plane of the painting then the reflection of the woman should be directly behind her and thus out of our line of sight.    In the painting the waitress stands before us, upright and is looking directly out at us and yet the reflection of her as depicted in the painting has her bent over slightly turned sideways as she talks to a gentleman with a moustache and wearing a top hat.    Something is not right.  Many believe that in actuality Manet had not meant it to be a true mirrored reflection of the back of the woman but the image of the woman at another time in her life.  Maybe Manet wanted it to be a depiction of what she is thinking as she looks into our eyes.  Maybe she is dreaming of meeting her gentleman lover or remembering the intimate time when they last met.  In Jeffrey Meyers book Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt, he describes the intentional play on perspective and the apparent violation of the operations of mirrors:

 “Behind her, and extending for the entire length of the four-and-a-quarter-foot painting, is the gold frame of an enormous mirror. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called a mirror ‘the instrument of a universal magic that changes things into spectacles, spectacles into things, me into others, and others into me.’ We, the viewers, stand opposite the barmaid on the other side of the counter and, looking at the reflection in the mirror, see exactly what she sees. Her own reflection, however, is not directly behind her, according to the strict rules of perspective, but at a right angle to where she’s standing. It seems to reveal her long hair, cheek, collar and back as she serves and chats to male customer. A critic has noted that Manet’s ‘preliminary study shows her placed off to the right, whereas in the finished canvas she is very much the centre of attention.’ Though Manet shifted her from the right to the center, he kept her reflection on the right. Seen in the mirror, she seems engaged with a customer; in full face, she’s self-protectively withdrawn and remote.”

Preliminary sketch

In an early preparatory sketch for this painting Manet placed the woman to the right of the picture and then her reflection in the mirror seems more realistic.

Suzon

The woman intrigues me.  I look at her and try and interpret her expression and by doing so, I  may be able to build up a picture of her existence.  How would you describe her expression?  Is it one of unhappiness, one of disappointment, maybe one of nervousness?  Her mind seems somewhere other than with us.  Her cheeks are flushed.  Is it simply due to the heat of the theatre or maybe it is a sign of extreme weariness.  In some ways she has a look of innocence but her reflected image talking to a customer or client belays that thought.  So in a way, maybe we are being asked to decide who the real woman is; the one who innocently looks out at us or the one who could well be negotiating the sale of herself?

Look at the bar which separates us from the woman.  On it we see a glass bowl containing oranges or mandarins, a small glass with two flowers in which we see a partial reflection of the woman’s corsage and an array of bottles of unopened champagne.  Critics have also pointed out that the mirror does not correctly reflect the bottles on the counter in type or quantity.  However more interestingly, note the bottles with the red triangle on the label. 

Bass Pale Ale

This was not a French product but Bass, a well known brand of English beer which was established in Burton on Trent by William Bass in 1777 and still can be bought today.  The inclusion of these bottles in the painting, which in present day terminology would be called product-placement, signifies the varied clientele. Members of the Jockey Club and English bookmakers used to congregate every evening at the Folie-Bergère bars and Bass beer was brought in especially for them.   Another interesting detail about the bottles on the counter is that the artist himself has signed his name “Manet 1852”on the label of the bottle containing the red liquid, on the far left.

The reflected background shows the interior of the theatre with its gilded balcony front and its large chandeliers hanging down from the high ceiling.  It is a glittering scene depicting a sensuous world of pleasure.  Round electric lights can be seen on the pillars which must have been in themselves a novelty as this type of lighting had only just come into being.  Look to the upper left corner of the painting and you can just make out a swing and a pair of small green-booted feet which belong to the trapeze artist who is poised aloft on a swing, performing for the theatregoers.

The installation of the painting at the Getty Centre exhibition (2007)

When this painting was lent out to the Getty Center in 2007 a mirror was installed to help dramatize the questions of vision and reflection raised by Manet’s painting.  The painting raises so many questions and as Manet is not with us to explain his work, one can only guess at the answers.  So I will leave you to ponder these points:

How would you describe the barmaid’s vacant expression, one of remorse, one close to tears ?

What had Manet in mind when he painted the off-set reflection of Suzon and why did he position her at the centre of the painting whereas in an early preparatory sketch she is to the right of the painting and the mirrored reflection of her seems more real?

The reflection shows a man talking to Suzon but why is he not shown on the side of the bar where we are standing?

We are standing on a balcony walkway in front of the bar and yet it is not shown in the mirrored reflection, why?

The marble bar top on which Suzon rests her hands stretches the full width of the painting and yet the reflected image of the of the bar top does not, why?

This is a truly intriguing painting and the next time you are in London you should make time to visit the Courtauld Gallery and stand in front of Suzon and see what you make of the painting.

The Railway by Édouard Manet

The Railway by Édouard Manet (1872)

During Édouard Manet’s life he was great friends with the writer Charles Beaudelaire, the French poet, philosopher and art critic, and from around 1855 they became constant companions with the two of them frequently going off on sketching trips.   It was an important friendship for Manet, as during the times his work was being harshly criticised, Beaudelaire was very supportive of him.  Lois Hyslop the American author and Beaudelaire specialist wrote about this supportive role in her 1980 book Beaudelaire, Man of His Time, and she quoted his comments with regards Manet:

“…Manet has great talent, a talent which will stand the test of time. But he has a weak character. He seems to me crushed and stunned by shock…”

Beaudelaire believed in modernité in art and in his book, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, he stressed the importance of it saying that it was very important that art must be held accountable to capture the modern experience.  He wrote:

“…By modernity I mean the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable…”

His advice to Manet was that his art should depict a contemporary realism and that Manet should become le peintre de la vie moderne .

Today I am returning to the French artist Édouard Manet and looking at another of his paintings.   It is a painting of modern life and modern Paris and would no doubt have pleased his friend, Beaudelaire.  The painting is simply entitled The Railway which he started in 1872 and completed the following year.  It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. This was the only painting by Manet that was accepted by the Salon jury for their 1874 exhibition.  In some ways it is an unusual painting and we struggle to understand what it is all about and Manet never revealed his thoughts behind the work.  So let us take a look at the image and see if we can understand Manet’s thought process as he put brush to canvas.

Gare Saint Lazare and Pont de l'Europe (c.1868)

To start on this journey of exploration I suppose we need to say what we see.  Let us first let us take in the setting of the scene.  It is an urban landscape of Paris in the late 19th century.  Why did Manet choose this scene and what was its significance?  This was the area around the newly built Gare Saint Nazare which was completed in 1837 and this area, along with the Pont de l’Europe, which straddled the railway tracks was an area of unparalleled importance for representing the changing face of modern life in Paris brought about by the redevelopment scheme of Baron Haussmann.   It was an area which was depicted many times by the Impressionist artists like Monet, Caillebotte and Jean Beruad.  The view we see is from the garden of the rue de Rome apartment house of Manet’s artist friend Alphonse Hirsch.  The painting is almost dominated by the black metal railings which boldly run the full width of the painting, creating a foreground and a background to the work and at the same time and in some ways acts to force the two females out towards us.  The black railings form a hard, lattice-work and it is in contrast to the pure white steam behind it.  There is an abundance of contrast in this painting with its sharp edges and soft dissolves. The small girl, with her back to us, almost seems as if she is using the railings as stage curtains which she draws open to get a better view of the rail tracks and the feverish movement of the trains below.  In contrast, the older female just leans back against them and shows little interest in what is happening behind her.  She has seen it all before.  To the right, on the other side of the railings, low down we can see a signal box, above which we can just make out a white pillar which is part of the Pont de l’Europe, which was inaugurated in 1868.  The Saint-Lazare station, which is out of picture, is further to the right.

Across from the railway tracks and in the background on the upper left of the painting, just behind the woman’s head, we see the buildings on the rue de Saint-Pétersbourg and the probable reason for this inclusion is we are actually looking at the door and window  of 4 rue de Saint-Pétersbourg , which was formerly a fencing hall, but from 1872 to 1878, it was Manet’s studio.  Most of the central background behind the railings has been masked by a cloud of steam and smoke which has wafted upwards from a passing locomotive and now hangs in the air.

On our side of the railings and close up to us we have the life sized figures of a young women and a young girl.  We are connected to them by their nearness, but is there a connection between the two of them?  Are they mother and daughter, or sisters, or governess and charge?  I think at this early stage in our investigation we have hit a brick wall as there is nothing to tell us about this relationship.  However there is certain disconnect between the two.  They face in different directions, almost a Janus-like scenario.

The woman wears a long dark blue dress with large round white buttons and full lace cuffs.  Cradled in her lap we see a small dog, which is often termed due to its size, a lap dog.  She is holding an opened book which she has been reading and tucked partly under her right arm is a closed fan.  Her long hair which is auburn in colour hangs loosely down and rests on her shoulders.  The lack of styling to her hair gives me to believe that she may be just out of her teenage years and yet, the covering of her arms, unlike the young girl next to her,  would indicate a sense of decorum attributable to adulthood.  On top of her head she wears a tall bonnet crested with a floral design.  For jewellery she has gold-like earrings and a bracelet and wears a thin black ribbon around her neck.   She stares thoughtfully out at us.  It is an ambiguous unwavering  stare and in some ways a similar look to the one the lady gave us in Manet’s painting Olympia.  Is she trying to engage with us?

The model Manet used for this depiction is once again Victorine Louise Meurent, a painter and famous artist’s model.  We have seen her before in Manet’s controversial masterpieces, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) which I featured in My Daily Art Display of August 2nd and Olympia (My Daily Art Display Oct 12th).  This was to be her last sitting for Manet  for it was around this time that she started taking painting lessons.  She wanted to concentrate on an academic style of painting which was anathema to Manet and their relationship fell apart.

Let us now look at the young girl.  The model used for this young girl was the daughter of Albert Hirsch, Manet’s friend.   She has her back to us and we see her peering between the railings at the activity below – the passing of a steam train.  It is somewhat strange that her right arm and shoulder are missing which is in direct contrast to her left arm which is stretched outwards as her hand grips the black metal railing.  Her attire reinforces her young age as we see she is not condemned by late 19th century convention to have long sleeves to her dress.  Her bluish/silver dress with the large bow is depicted in an unusual fashion.  It balloons outwards which either means a rush of upward air has caused it to billow or she has retained what is termed “puppy fat”.  Her hairstyle belies her age as it is swept up in an adult fashion and tied by a similar black ribbon worn by the woman.

So what did the critics make of Manet’s painting which was his largest en plein air work,  up until then, that he ever painted measuring 93cms x 114cms.  Alas once again a hostile reception from the critics greeted Manet’s work.  One said the painting should be renamed:

Two sufferers from incurable Manet-mania watch the cars go by, through the bars of a madhouse

Those who visited the exhibition were baffled by the work.  Critics said that the painting was incoherent and the painting quality was poor.  Unfortunately, few failed to recognise that this was a painting which symbolised modernity.  His friend Beaudelaire would have been proud of him but alas he died seven years before the painting was exhibited.