Victorine Meurent

“Former model, single, independent woman, Victorine Meurent is one of the many forgotten women artists neglected by history.” Valeryia Morozov

Victorine-Louise Meurent (also Meurant; February 18, 1844 – March 17, 1927) was a French painter and a model for painters. Although she is best known as the favorite model of Édouard Manet, she was 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. Source

Women Artist of the 19th Century

Women of the nineteenth century in France were expected to be wives and mothers above all else. Girls, considered “angels of hearth” (McMillan) received different and less education than boys. They were barely taught anything other than catechism, which reinforced their role as future spouses and mothers. As a result, women were largely absent from the professional ranks of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Source

Women artists faced many difficulties. Bourgeois society admitted female painting as leisure activity (“art d’agrément”), but not as a profession. If a woman persisted in seeking an artistic career she was perceived as immodest and unfit. In addition, she encountered technical difficulties: art classes for women cost twice as much as for men; painting nudes, considered a critical skill, was forbidden for women. Furthermore, exhibiting one’s work solicited double criticism: as women who dared to exhibit and as painters.Source

Edouard Manet, Olympia

Frenchwoman Victorine Meurent modeled for Manet’s famous Olympia and Déjeuner sur l’herbe. At age thirty-one she decided to become a painter. She took art classes, and exhibited successfully at the Salon. Nonetheless, she was soon forgotten. Critics of her time described her as poor woman who descended into alcoholism, yet the truth is that Meurent kept painting and teaching guitar until the age of eighty-four. Unlike other successful women painters of her time, such as Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Rosa Bonheur, whose families supported them, Meurent had no moral or financial support. Former model, single, independent woman, Victorine Meurent is one of the many forgotten women artists neglected by history. Source

Edouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Victorine Meurent

Indeed, 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.Source

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. Source However, her relationship with Stevens is said to have been particularly close.

Manet continued to use Meurent as a model until the early 1870s, when she began taking art classes. Because she was drawn to the more academic style of painting that Manet opposed, Meurent and Manet became estranged. The last Manet painting in which Meurent appears is The Railway (1873). The painting is an example of Manet’s use of contemporary subject matter. Source

Edouard Manet, The Railway

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. Source

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 was included in the 1885 and 1904 exhibitions as well. In all, Meurent exhibited in the Salon six times. She also continued to support herself by modeling through the 1880s for Norbert Goeneutte, an artist best known for his etchings, and for Toulouse-Lautrec.Source

Meurent was inducted into the Société des Artistes Français in 1903, with the support of Charles Hermann-Leon and Tony Robert-Fleury, the founder of the Société. By 1906, at the age of 62 Meurent had left Paris for the suburb of Colombes, which is a commune to the northwest of Paris. She lived there for the remainder of her life in a house that she owned jointly with Marie Dufour. Meurent continued to refer to herself as an artist into her seventies, as recorded in a census from 1921.Source

Victorine Meurent, Self Portrait

At the age of 83, Meurent died on March 17, 1927. After the death of her companion Dufour in 1930, neighbours recalled the last few contents of the house being burned. Only two of Victorine’s works is known to survive, Le Jour des Rameaux was recovered in 2004 and now hangs in the Musée Municipal d’Art et d’Histoire de Colombes and a self-portrait she painted in 1876 was acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the United States in September 2021, the first of her paintings in a museum collection outside France. 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. Source

Victorine Meurent, Le Jour Des Rameaux or Palm Sunday

Sources and more

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