Image via Bonjour Paris
Victorine Meurent – the Muse at the heart of many of Édouard Manet’s paintings is a red-haired woman that, may not be identical from picture to picture, turns out to be the same model. The nudes in the French painter’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe and Olympia, the demure Young Lady in 1866, The Street Singer, The Gare St. Lazare, even the boy in The Fifer are all Victorine Meurent. Unconventionally pretty, Victorine was known for her confident gaze, petite stature and her red hair – due to this she acquired the nickname La Crevette, The Shrimp.
Image via Bonjour Paris
Although she is best known as the favourite model of Édouard Manet alongside other artists, she was also an artist in her own right. Working both as the Muse and the artist like other women in history such as Dora Maar and Camille Claudel.
Born in Paris in 1844, Victorine came from a working class family of artisans. She started modelling for Manet in 1862 at the age of 16, but how they met is unclear. It might have been at Thomas Couture’s studio, where she worked as a model, or through her father. Some have said that they met on the street near the Palais de Justice. Victorine also modelled for painters Edgar Degas and Alfred Stevens. Unlike many other muses however, especially at the time, Victorine is not believed to have been Manet’s lover, but was romantically linked to Stevens.
Image via The Telegraph
As an artist Victorine had a more academic style of painting to which Manet was long-opposed to. Trying her luck on the other side of the canvas Victorine attended evening classes at the Académie Julian in 1875 under the instruction of the painter Etienne Leroy. Her self-portrait was shown at the Paris Salon the following year, when Manet’s work was not. The Paris Salon went on to accept and exhibited her submissions six more times throughout her lifetime.
In August 1883, four months after Manet’s death, Victorine asked his widow for financial help. She claimed that years earlier he had promised her a small fee for her modelling in his work, which she had refused, on the understanding that she would remind him of his offer if she ever needed the money later in life. “That time has come sooner than I expected,” Victorine wrote to his widow. Madame Manet, who had inherited most of her husband’s paintings and was in the process of organising a sale, ignored the letter.
Image via My Daily Art Display
Victorine died in 1927. After the death of her companion Dufour in 1930, neighbours recalled the last few contents of the house being burned. Only one of Victorine’s works is known to survive, Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday was recovered in 2004 and now hangs in the Musée Municipal d’Art et d’Histoire de Colombes. The whereabouts of Victorine’s other paintings is unknown and may be forever lost. A record of the sale of one of her paintings in 1930 was the last report of her works.
Text by Peigi Mackillop