Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Mme. Manet, Paris.
T. Duret, Histoire d'Edouard Manet et de son Oeuvre, Paris, 1902, no. 237.
Paris, Grand Palais, Salon d'Automne, 1905, no. 14.
Isabelle Lemonnier was the daughter of Alexandre Gabriel Lemonnier, Crown jeweller to Napoleon III. Her link with the artistic milieu of 1870s Paris came through her elder sister, Marguerite, who was married to Georges Charpentier, the progressive publisher of Naturalist writers Flaubert, Zola and Daudet. As an off-shoot from his publishing house, Charpentier also established a gallery linked to the periodical La Vie moderne in order to support the Impressionists. In the spring of 1880, he staged Manet's first substantial one-man show since 1867 at the new gallery. Interestingly, of the twenty-five works Manet chose to exhibit at La Vie moderne in 1880, a third were, like the present work, portraits.
Marguerite and Georges Charpentier together hosted a celebrated salon in the rue de Grenelle from the mid-1870s until the 1890s. Manet was a regular at these soirées. Marguerite had been one of the earliest supporters of Renoir, and Renoir memorably returned the compliment in a lavish portrait of her and her children Georgette and Paul, which is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Isabelle Lemonnier became the subject of Manet's attentions and affections at the end of the 1870s. Over a period of three or four years around 1880 he painted her six times in oil at his studio on the rue d'Amsterdam in Paris. Four of this series are now housed in public collections - namely the Dallas and Philadelphia Museums of Art (W.302 & 303), the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (W.299), and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (W.300). The present work is, along with the St Petersburg example, executed in the largest format.
In a review of the 1880 exhibition at La Vie moderne, the critic Gustave Goetschy turned his attention to Manet's talent for portraiture: 'His characters live and move in an atmosphere all their own. Everything about them and around them is true. Moreover he has a particularly accurate feeling for gestures and attitudes. Since he wants to preserve in his work all the charm and sincerity of his first impression, he works quickly, indicating with broad and bright brush strokes the movement of the body, its anatomy and colour, enveloping it in the appropriate general tone...He almost always poses his model in strong light, even in the cruel and brilliant clarity of actual sunlight' (quoted in G. Heard Hamilton, Manet and his Critics, Yale, 1986, p. 228).
The sequence of the six works has not been fully agreed upon. It has been suggested that the present work might have been the first in the series on the basis that it fits the descritption of a work in the artist's studio in 1878 described by Manet's friend and biographer, Antonin Proust. Proust reports the discussion of what might well be the present work between Manet and the English painter Frederic Leighton, who was visiting Manet's studio on the occasion of the 1878 Paris World's Fair. 'When I take up something', Manet said to Leighton, 'I am most afraid that the model will disappoint me, that I will not be able to conduct such a number of sittings and under the conditions that I need.'
In terms of mood, the present work shares most in common with the Philadelphia picture. In both works Isabelle is dressed in an evening gown with her arms rather formally crossed. In its small size and horizontal format however, the Philadelphia work lacks the ambition of the present work. Of the four other examples from the series, all are in portrait format and three - the Copenhagen, St Petersburg and Dallas pictures - depict Isabelle in outdoor clothing.
Isabelle, to judge by the relative frequency with which she sat to Manet, would seem to have been fulfilled his requirements as a dependable model. However, something other than purely Isabelle's reliability might have been at the heart of his commitment to her.
By 1880, Manet's health was declining and he began a course of hydrotherapy treatment at Bellevue, near Paris. Over the summer of that year, as he convalesced, he wrote around twenty playful letters to Isabelle from Bellevue, often adding delicate little watercolour drawings to teh letters, as was his habit at the time (fig. ). One notable example contains a drawing of a mirabelle plum and the short rhyme, 'A Isabelle/Cette mirabelle/Et la plus belle/C'est Isabelle!' Another gently chastises her for not replying to him. A third carries the flirtation forward in signing off by saying how he would send her a kiss 'if he dared.'
Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, the collector of Manet's work who donated Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Paris, Musée d'Orsay; W.67) to the French state in 1906, commented on the artist's relationship with Isabelle in 1880: 'During his stay at Bellevue, his thoughts were endlessly carried away by [Isabelle], entrusted to brief notes, decorated with tiny watercolours, or supplemented with some elegant delicacies...The tone of these notes is the tone of a conversation spoken in joking ease.'
On Manet's death in 1883, Portrait de Isabelle Mademoiselle Lemonnier passed to the younger of his two brothers, Gustave. When Gustave in turn died the following year, the picture was bequeathed to Berthe Morisot, Manet's frequent model and erstwhile pupil, as well as the wife of Eugène, the artist's only surviving brother. She hung the picture in her home alongside several other of her former master's works. Portrait de Mademoiselle Isabelle Lemonnier is visible in the background of Morisot's tender portrait of her daughter, Julie, playing the violin at their Paris house on the rue Weber in 1893.
An important Manet retrospective was held at the famous third Salon d'Automne in 1905 - the salon of the Fauves. The portrait of Isabelle Lemonnier was among the twenty-five oils exhibited, lent from the collection of Julie Manet who had inherited the picture on the death of her mother, Berthe. The picture was exhibited under the enigmatic title of Jeune femme en robe de bal and was shown alongside a mouth-watering line-up of Manet's portraiture, including pictures of the artist's parents, M. et Mme. Auguste Manet, Emile Zola (both Paris, Musée d'Orsay; W.30 & 128), Eva Gonzalès (London, National Gallery; W.154), and Berthe Morisot à l'éventail (Private collection; W.229).