‘Discover Manet & Eva Gonzalès’ is the first in a series of exhibitions that look at a single painting from fresh and unexpected perspectives.
A combination of new technical analysis and investigation into the life and times of the artist and his only pupil, takes us in new directions, approaching this imposing portrait with new eyes.
Eva Gonzales (1847–1883), the daughter of a prominent writer, entered Manet’s studio in 1869, at the age of 22. This exhibition is a chance to find out more about her; her relationship with Manet, a figurehead for the Impressionist generation, her own work, and what her experience as a woman artist in 19th-century Paris might have been. The exhibition also sets the portrait of Eva Gonzalès in a broader context by including self portraits made by women from the 18th to early 20th centuries, comparing and contrasting them with portraits painted of them by their male fellow artists and teachers. These include paintings by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807), Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), Alfred Stevens (1823–1906), and Laura Knight (1877–1970), among others.
New technical examination of the painting provides another perspective, showing us how Manet worked and what materials he chose. X-radiography and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scanning reveal Manet’s multiple attempts at areas he was struggling with; restarting the face repeatedly, reworking fabric and furniture, positioning things at different angles, and even painting out unwanted objects in his effort to create a sense of spontaneity. We can see how the painting came to life, as if we are standing behind Manet at the easel as he paints his friend and pupil.
Come away with new ideas about this painting, its creator and subject, and find out about what it can tell us about the experience of women as artists.