Artist of the Week – Victorine Meurent

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Victorine-Louise Meurent (1844-1927) was a French woman born from a working class family.  Her father was thought to be an engraver and her mother owned a laundry shop.  During her lifetime she was a well known painter but was an even more well known model.  She is small in stature and has iconic red hair (which earned her the nickname of “la crevette” the shrimp).  She is best known as Eduoard Manet’s muse because she modled in many of his pieces including two of his masterpieces, Olympia and The Luncheon on the Grass.  Meurent began modeling for Manet in 1862 but there are different accounts of how the two of them met.  Some think they met on the street near the Palais de Justice and others think they met through Victorine’s father or at Thomas Couture’s studio where she worked as a model.

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Without Meurent,  Manet wouldn’t have painted some of his most famous works.  The Meurent portraits were not immediately appreciated by the public since her naked body made people perceive her as a prostitute.  This was common for this era in time since poor women were often forced to sell themselves.

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In this painting by Manet, Meurent is challenging the viewer through a direct gaze and an air of masculinity in her pose.  I really like this painting because to me it represents her as a powerful woman and does not objectify her body.  She is more than just a woman with no clothes on.   In my opinion part of what makes Manet’s works so amazing is Meurent’s ability to deliver such powerful material.  Meurent is what we would call a strong, independent woman today.

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This painting is speculated as maybe being the last time Manet painted Meurent.  In this piece she is ten years older than she was in the Olympia painting.  Victorine Meurent started her painting career in the 1870’s and her pieces were regularly exhibitted in the “Salon”.  She preferred not to follow in the footsteps of impressionist and preferred the academic style.  It is speculated that this is one of the reasons Manet and Meurent gradually became estranged.

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Regardless of their estrangement, these two artists created amazing works when their efforts were combined.  Without Meurent as a model I doubt Manet’s pieces would have been the same and without Manet maybe we would not even know who Victorine Meurent is today.

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