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.
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…”
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.
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.