Eva Gonzalès (1843–1883), Manet’s only formal pupil, was a successful artist and a regular exhibitor at the Salon. This portrait was probably started in February 1869 and involved numerous sittings. It was finally finished in March 1870 and shown at the Salon the same year.
Manet had painted other artists (both men and women), but this portrait is unusual in that it shows Eva painting at her easel (although the picture on it is already framed). A half-rolled canvas carrying Manet’s signature lies on the floor, a reminder of his role as her teacher. Her pose, along with the white dress and the fluidity of the brushstrokes with which it is painted, recalls the work of Goya, whom Manet greatly admired. The connection to Goya, who was Spanish, perhaps also underlines Eva’s Hispanic identity. Her flowing white dress fills the composition, its brightness heightened by the dark background so that it becomes a source of illumination in its own right.
Eva Gonzalès (1843–1883) was the daughter of the novelist, playwright and journalist Emmanuel Gonzalès. Having trained with the society portraitist Charles Chaplin, she was introduced to Manet by the artist Alfred Stevens and became his only formal pupil. Unlike Berthe Morisot, who regarded her as a rival for Manet’s attention and advice, Eva publicly declared herself to be his pupil. She was a successful artist, whose work had similarities with Manet’s Spanish period, and she was a regular exhibitor at the Salon.
This portrait was painted in Manet’s studio at 81 rue Guyot, Paris, and was probably started in February 1869. Completion was slow and involved numerous sittings, but it was finally finished by 12 March 1870. Shown at the Salon the same year with the title Mlle E.G., the portrait received a mixed reception, although even Morisot praised it, noting ‘Manet has never done anything as good as his portrait of Mademoiselle Gonzalès’.
Manet had painted other artists (both men and women), but this portrait is unusual in that it shows Eva actually painting at her easel, rather than as a contemporary bourgeoise and with no visible reference to her profession. A half-rolled canvas bearing Manet’s signature lies on the floor, a reminder of his role as her teacher. Gonzalès puts the finishing touches to a flower painting that is already framed. The picture itself does not look like flower paintings by either her or Manet, but instead appears to be a decorative Rococo piece. It is quite unlike the white peony on the ground, near the hem of her dress, the shape and creamy texture of which are similar to earlier flower pieces by Manet.
With her right arm stretched out rather stiffly and her palette seeming to balance on her left hand, Eva appears to merely dab at the canvas (perhaps just retouching a detail), in contrast to Manet’s technique of applying paint thickly. Her pose is a little awkward: her head does not follow the orientation of her body but is instead turned slightly towards us, although she does not directly engage with us. However, her pose, along with her white dress and the fluidity of the brushstrokes with which it is painted, does recall the work of Goya, most notably The 12th Marchioness de Villafranca painting her Husband of 1804 (Prado, Madrid). Manet’s explicit reference to Goya, an artist he had always admired, also helped underline Eva’s Hispanic identity.
Eva’s expensive flowing white dress is an impractical choice for someone painting, but it fills the composition. Its brightness is heightened by the dark background so that it becomes a source of illumination in its own right. Manet’s appreciation of white may have been inspired by Whistler’s Little White Girl, subsequently titled Symphony in White No 1: The White Girl (Washington, National Gallery of Art), which had been exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés.
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