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.

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.

Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris

Musée Marmottan Monet

For my blog today I am not showcasing an artist or a painting but a small museum , the Musée Marmottan Monet, which I visited last week when I was in Paris and I hope that for any of you who are intending to visit the French capital and want to take in some of its artistic heritage you will make time to visit this museum.  I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.  The museum is situated at 2 rue Louis Boilly in the vibrant and colourful 16th arondissement and is easy to get to as there are two nearby Metro stations, La Muette and Ranelagh.

I have often advocated that when one goes to London one should not always head for the major art galleries such as the National Gallery or the two Tate galleries as they are so big that one has no hope of seeing everything in one session and trying to often means that you skimp on the time each painting deserves.  A better plan of action if your time is limited is to go and visit one of the smaller galleries.  In London one has the Wallace Collection, the Courtauld Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, to mention just a few.  So to practice what I preach, when I was in Paris last week I didn’t revisit the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, instead I visited, for the first time, the Musée Marmottan Monet and it was unquestionably a most worthwhile visit.

The building was originally constructed as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Valmy and a few years later was sold to Jules Marmottan which on his death along with all his belongings was bequeathed to his son Paul.  Paul Marmottan later built a small pavilion in the courtyard as the original building was too small to house all of his paintings, furniture and bronzes.  Paul Marmottan bequeathed his home and collection to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which opened up the house and collection as the Museum Marmottan in 1934.

If you like the work of the Impressionists and in particular the works of Claude Monet then look no further as this museum houses the largest collection of Monet’s work in the world and this is partly due to the fact that Monet’s youngest son Michel donated his father’s paintings from Giverny to the museum.  The building originally had two floors, the ground floor and an upper floor but to exhibit all the works they had to build a large underground room.  A number of bequests to the museum over the years have filled the building with beautiful and priceless art treasures.

The Duhem Collection was bequeathed to the museum by the daughter of the French painter, Henri Duhem.  These included works by Boudin, Caillebotte, Corot, Gaugin,  Monet and Renoir.  In 1980 an amazing group of illuminations spanning the 13th to 16th century was donated to the museum by Daniel Wildenstein.  The collection is exceptional for both the quantity and quality of the works.  There are over three hundred miniatures.  In 1996 the museum received an extraordinary donation from Annie Rouart.  Her husband was Denis Rouart, the grandson of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet.  Among the paintings given to the museum by Annie Rouart were masterpieces by Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir and of course works by the famous female Impressionist Berthe Morisot.

Berthe Morisot Exhibition

For those of you who love the work of Berthe Morisot, and I include myself in that particular fan club, there is currently running a brilliant exhibition of her work.  It is housed in the basement.   It opened on March 8th and runs until July 1st 2012.  It presents the first major retrospective of the work of Berthe Morisot to be held in Paris for almost half a century.  One hundred and fifty paintings, pastels, watercolours and drawings in red chalk and charcoal, from museums and private collections all over the world, retrace the career of the Impressionist movement’s best-known woman painter. Works which have been selected for the exhibition cover the whole of Berthe Morisot’s artistic career, from her earliest works around 1860, to her untimely death at the age of 54, in 1895.  In my next few blogs I will feature a few  of the many paintings I saw when I walked around the museum.