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.

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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?

Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles) by Henri Fantin-Latour

Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles)

Today I am looking at a work of art by the French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour, or to give him his full name, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour.  The family was of Italian ancestry and the “Fantin” part of the name came from the fact that some of the ancestors hailed from the southern Italian town of San-Fantino.  In the 17th century, a Jean Fantin added “Latour” to the name of Fantin.

Henri was born in Grenoble in 1836.  His father, Theodore Fantin-Latour, originally from Metz, was a society portraitist painter.   In 1841 the family moved to Paris.  Having shown a liking for drawing at an early age, he received his initial artistic training from his father.  Then at the age of fourteen, he enrolled on a three-year course at the École de Dessin of the French artist and drawing instructor, Lecoq de Boisbaudran.  Following this, he spent a short time at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  During his art student days he spent most of his time at the Louvre copying the painting of the old Masters as well as making many visits to the Musée de Luxembourg to study and copy the works of Eugene Delacroix.  In 1861, after he graduated from the art schools he worked for a time at the atelier of Gustave Courbet and supported himself by earning money as a copyist.

During his time copying paintings at the Louvre he came across and became friends with a number of the future Impressionists, such as Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot.   In 1858, he struck up a special friendship with the American-born artist James Whistler and along with French-born English painter Alphonse Legros he founded the art group known as the Société des Trois.   Whistler, who had moved to London, invited Henri over for a visit which he accepted and through the good auspices of his two friends Whistler and Legros he was introduced to the art world of London.  This was the first of many trips to London made by Fantin-Latour.  One very important introduction whilst there was to Edwin Edwards, who had trained as a lawyer but also practiced as an artist and etcher.  He acted as Henri Fantin-Latour’s agent in England and found him many buyers for his floral paintings as well as a number of patrons.

Henri Fantin-Latour had started painting a number of works of art featuring floral still-lifes and these were well received in London although strangely enough never popular in France during his lifetime.  Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited a number of his works at the Paris Salon in 1861 and 1862  and later in 1863, at the Salon des Refusés, and  he exhibited regularly at the London Royal Academy.  Although he had been close friends to a number of the Impressionists, he never put up any of his paintings for their eight Impressionist Exhibitions.  The reason for that decision was probably due to the fact that although he counted them as friends, he disagreed with their artistic theories and philosophy.  His artistic style was more conservative.

Henri-Fantin Latour will always be remembered for his luxurious floral paintings but he was an artist who painted many group portraits and it through these works that we get an insight into the friendship between the now-famous artists, poets, musicians and writers of that era.  During his time as an artist he also completed no fewer than twenty three self-portraits.

In 1875, aged thirty nine, Henri Fantin-Latour married a fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg and the couple spent their summers at the country estate of his in-laws at Buré.  In 1879 Henri Fantin-Latour was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal.  Henri Fantin Latour died in 1904, aged 68 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

The painting I am featuring today was not one of Fantin-Latour’s beautiful floral works of art but instead I am going to look at one of his group portraits. It is very like a painting I featured in My Daily Art Display on November 10th 2011 entitled Bazille’s Studio; rue de la Condamine by Frédéric Bazille, who also actually appears in today’s painting.

My painting today is entitled Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles) and he completed it in 1870.  Batignolles is part of the 17th arondissement of the city of Paris.  At the time of Fantin-Latour, this was a cultural hive of activity and served as a base for young painters such as Édouard Manet and many of his artist friends who, because of the locality, became known as Le groupe des Batignolles.  The painting today is a kind of “who’s who” of that group.   It is more than just that.  In some ways it is Henri Fantin-Latour paying homage to his friend Manet.

We are in the atelier of Édouard Manet and we see him sitting at his easel. He concentrates on the man sitting in the other chair, the subject of his painting, Zacharie Astruc.  Astruc was a painter, poet, sculptor and art critic who had rallied to support the likes of Courbet and Manet and the Impressionist group of painters when they were constantly being criticized.   Standing around and watching the artist at work are some of his friends.  At the far left of the painting, seen standing directly behind Manet is the German painter Otto Schölderer.  Next to him, wearing a hat, is Auguste Renoir.  Further to the right of the painting and almost in the background, are Emile Zola, the writer who also championed the cause of the Impressionists in their struggle with the Salon and its condemnation of this new grouping of artists, Edmond Maître another supporter of the Impressionist painters and who was, at the time, a civil servant at the town hall.  Almost hidden in the corner of the painting is Claude Monet.   Standing tall and upright behind the chair with a full beard is the twenty-six year old, Frédéric Bazille, who two months after this painting was completed was killed in the Franco-Prussian War.  There is a  formal air to this group portrait.  The men are all dressed in somber dark suits and their expressions are serious and unsmiling.   All these young artists had suffered at the hands of the art critics of the day.  They and their paintings were accused as being frivolous and contrary to what the art establishment was used to.  It is possibly for that reason that Henri Fantin-Latour decided to depict the gathering so formally and with an air of respectability.  Could this desire to show how these young artists had not completely put the antique traditions of the Academics of the Salon behind them be the reason why the artist has included a statuette of Minerva on the table at the left of the painting?  In my last blog regarding Monet and Camille Doncieux I mentioned that all things Japanese were the rage in Paris and France in the late nineteenth century.  Look how Fantin-Latour has positioned a Japanese stoneware vase next top Minerva in the painting.

This work by Henri Fantin-Latour is almost a historical painting.  It records for us a time in history when these characters were leaving their mark.  Each one of them is posing for posterity.  Zola once wrote about the struggle these artists had to endure and the way in which Édouard Manet tried to rally them when they became dispirited.  He wrote:
“…Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master…”

Henri Fantin-Latour put forward the painting to be exhibited at the 1870 Salon  The painting was accepted and he was awarded a  medal by the salon for this work of art.  In spite of his close relationship with the Impressionist painters he never followed their artistic techniques.  He remained a traditionalist and remained faithful to that traditional technique. In the latter part of his career he painted less and concentrated on lithography.

Did you wonder whether Manet was actually painting a picture of Zacharie Astruc as depicted in today’s featured work?  Who knows, but coincidentally, Manet did complete a portrait of Astruc four years earlier in 1866, which now hangs at the Kunsthalle in Bremen………………….

Portrait of Zacharie Astruc by Manet (1866)

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.

Olympia by Édouard Manet

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

My Daily Art Display today continues with the life of Édouard Manet.  Yesterday we had reached 1864 the year when he exhibited his work entitled The Dead Christ with Angels at the Paris Salon and for which he was heavily criticised.  So did Manet, after the criticism and ridicule of his 1864 painting, submit a less contentious work the following season in 1865?  The answer is simply a resounding NO.  He entered two paintings into the 1865 Salon and in fact one of the paintings entitled Olympia, was one he had completed two years earlier and it was this one which caused an even greater furore with both the public and critics alike. The fact that Manet had completed the painting two years earlier but had not exhibited it makes one wonder whether Manet himself had doubts about the wisdom of launching such a contentious painting on the Parisian public.  His concern was well founded as it was considered the most shocking of all the works exhibited that year.  Olympia by Manet is My Daily Art Display featured painting today.

Before us we see an almost nude woman lying on a bed with a pink orchid tucked behind her left ear.    At the end of the bed, by the naked woman’s feet, we can just make out a small black cat.  In fact the inclusion of the small furry animal often had people naming the painting, Venus with a Cat.  The model for the painting was Victorine Meurent.  Victorine was also, besides being a famous model for painters,  an artist in her own right and one who exhibited a number of works at the prestigious Paris Salon.  Ironically in 1876, one of her paintings was included in the Salon’s juried exhibition (exhibitions at which the works of art are only displayed if selected by a jury) and the painting which Manet put forward for selection was rejected.

The subject of the oil on canvas painting caused a sensation.  So what shocked the critics?  Was it the nudity?  If that was the case, then why, as surely paintings of nudes were quite common at that time.   The problem was not the nudity but the fact that the critics believed the naked woman that Manet had depicted could be identified as a demi-mondaine.  These were ladies who had a reputation of enjoying an extravagant lifestyle of fine food and clothes, all of which had been achieved because of the steady income they made in cash and gifts from their various lovers.   In other words she was identified as a high-class prostitute and the Parisian public was very uncomfortable with the scale of prostitution in their city. 

Venus of Urbino by Titian

There can be no doubt that Manet’s inspiration for this painting came from Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Giorgione’s Sleeping (Dresden) Venus (see My Daily Art Display for Feb 15th).  Maybe Manet wanted to update and be more innovative with his “Olympia”.   Not all critics condemned his effort.  A few praised him for his “bold step into modernism”.  However there are differences in the way Manet has portrayed his woman in comparison with Titian’s Venus and it is these differences which led to the outcry.

Sleeping (Dresden) Venus by Giorgione

The contention that Manet’s woman was merely a high class prostitute was brought about by the way she wore an orchid in her hair, her pearl earrings, her bracelet, and her expensive oriental shawl on which her body rests,  all of which gave rise to the belief that her wealth was gained from the “service” she offered her lovers.  Her skin is bright white in colour and there is a severe shift from light to shadow in this painting.  Look how she stares towards us with her black eyes.  This is not a demure gaze.  It is a challenging, contemptuous and provoking look, in some ways daring us to find fault with her appearance.  Her hand is placed over her vulva and in a way she is saying that this is only to be had by the men she chooses.  It is in some way a signal that she will choose who she will bed.  Around her neck she wears a narrow black ribbon which when contrasted with the paleness of her neck adds sensuality to her pose.  Her upswept hair held in place by the orchid adds to the eroticism.  Her slipper is half on and half off her foot in a slovenly fashion. 

Her black servant, Laure, stands by her side.  She is attired in the typical fashion servants of a courtesan would dress.  She is holding a bouquet of flowers which the naked woman seems to ignore.  They are probably a gift from a lover who may have just arrived.   Maybe her eyes are not on us but on the door through which her lover is about to emerge.

As I said earlier we have the strange black cat sitting on the end of the bed.  In Titian’s Venus of Urbino he had included a dog which symbolized fidelity and added a kind of gentility to the scene.  Manet would have none of this sentimentality and added his black cat which because of its habits was taken as a symbol of laziness, lust and prostitution.  A coincidence?  Or did Manet know exactly what he was doing when he include the animal in his painting?

The painting when exhibited was one which the observer either loved or hated.  There were no half-measures.  The painting could not be ignored.  The critics labeled it immoral and vulgar and his friend Antonin Beaudelaire commented that the picture had created such anger that it was in danger of being destroyed by an over-zealous and offended observer.  In 1890 the French government acquired the painting with a public subscription, which had been organized by Claude Monet, and it now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

 I will let you decide whether what you see before you is Venus, an old-style Titian-like goddess or a nineteenth century Venus whose name was Olympia.   Maybe you prefer to simply believe Manet has depicted a high class prostitute awaiting her next client but whatever you decide I think you will agree that it is a fine work of art.