Édouard Manet - Olympia, Musée d'Orsay, 1863
Victorine Meurent was Manet’s favorite model in the 1860s, posing for Street Singer, in the MFA’s collection, as well as for such other renowned works as Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass (both now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris).
Victorine Louise Meurent (February 18, 1844 – March 17, 1927) was a French painter and a famous model for painters. Although she is best known as the favourite model of Édouard Manet, she was also an artist in her own right who regularly exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon. In 1876 her paintings were selected for inclusion at the Salon's juried exhibition, when Manet's work was not.
Born in Paris to a family of artisans (her father was a patinator of bronzes, while her mother was a milliner), Meurent started modeling at the age of sixteen in the studio of Thomas Couture and may also have studied art at his women's atelier. Meurent first modeled for Manet in 1862, for his painting The Street Singer. Manet was first drawn to Meurent when he saw her in the street, carrying her guitar. She was particularly noticeable for her petite stature, which earned her the nickname La Crevette (The Shrimp), and for her red hair, which is depicted as very bright in Manet's watercolor copy of Olympia. As well as playing the guitar, Meurent also played the violin, gave lessons in the two instruments, and sang in café-concerts.
Meurent's name remains forever associated with Manet's masterpieces of 1863, The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, which include nude portrayals of her. At that time she also modeled for Edgar Degas and the Belgian painter Alfred Stevens, both close friends of Manet. Her relationship with Stevens is said to have been particularly close.
Édouard Manet - Olympia, Musée d'Orsay, 1863
Manet continued to use Meurent as a model until the early 1870s, when she began taking art classes and they became estranged, as she was drawn to the more academic style of painting that Manet opposed. The last Manet painting in which Meurent appears is Gare Saint-Lazare (Not to be confused with Monet's painting of the same name), painted in 1873, which is often referred to as The Railway. The painting is considered the best example of Manet's use of contemporary subject matter.
In 1875, Meurent began studying with the portraitist Étienne Leroy. The following year, Meurent first submitted work of her own at the Salon and was accepted. Ironically, Manet's own submissions were rejected by the jury that year. Bourgeoise de Nuremberg au XVIe siècle, Meurent's entry at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1879, was hung in the same room as the entry by Manet. Work by Meurent also was included in the 1885 and 1904 exhibitions. In all, Meurent exhibited in the Salon six times. She also continued to support herself by modelling through the 1880s for Norbert Goeneutte, an artist best known for his etchings, and for Toulouse-Lautrec, who took to introducing her as Olympia.
Meurent was inducted into the Société des Artistes Français in 1903, with the support of Charles Hermann-Leon and Tony Robert-Fleury, the Société's founder. By 1906 Meurent had left Paris for the suburb of Colombes, where she lived with a woman named Marie Dufour for the remainder of her life. The two appear to have shared ownership of their house. In her eighties she continued to refer to herself as an artist, as recorded in a census from that time. Meurent died on March 17, 1927. After the death of Dufour in 1930, the contents of the house were liquidated; in the late twentieth century, elderly neighbours recalled the last contents of the house, including a violin and its case, being burnt on a bonfire.
A painting by Meurent, Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday was recovered in 2004 and now hangs in the Colombes History Museum.
Oltre alla pittura e all'amicizia l'altra grande passione di Manet fu la bellezza femminile, e la mostra presenta ritratti straordinari di donna, dalla moglie Suzanne all'allieva Eva Gonzales, dalla cognata artista Berthe Morisot alla modella Victorine Meurent, la protagonista di Le déjuner su l'herbe e Olympia, che ha una sala dedicata solo a lei.
Al Salon del 1863 Manet aveva dipinto la Colazione sull'erba, originariamente intitolata Il Bagno. La giuria lo rifiutò. Proprio quell’anno gli artisti rifiutati al Salon furono ben 300. Napoleone III, per contenere le loro proteste, fece aprire un altro salone: il Salon dés Refusée. In esso venne esposto anche «La colazione sull’erba» di Manet. Ma, anche qui, le accoglienze del pubblico e della critica furono negative. Il quadro scandalizzava sia per il soggetto, sia per lo stile. In esso vi sono raffigurati, in primo piano, una donna completamente nuda, la stessa Victorine, che conversa con due uomini completamente vestiti, il fratello del pittore e lo scultore olandese Leenhoff. In secondo piano, una seconda donna che si sta bagnando in uno stagno: è la stessa Victorine dipinta per ben due volte. Non è il nudo della donna a scandalizzare, ma la sua rappresentazione troppo realistica in una situazione apparentemente quotidiana ma decisamente insolita. Ciò che in sostanza urta è che la nudità della donna rende volgare una conversazione tra normali borghesi. Il soggetto è solo un pretesto per evidenziare la modernità della sua pittura rispetto a quella del passato. Il contenuto del quadro di Manet è solo la novità tecnica della sua pittura. Ma ciò determinò un ulteriore sconcerto da parte del pubblico e della critica. La tecnica pittorica di Manet apparve decisamente poco elaborata e quasi rozza rispetto ai canoni della pittura accademica di quegli anni.
Manet provocò un grande scandalo con Olympia al salone del 1865: questa donna impudica che guarda lo spettatore negli occhi non corrisponde a nessuno dei canoni classici dell'epoca.