At the Salon of 1882, just one year before his death, Édouard Manet exhibited a painting depicting the actress and model Jeanne Demarsy. This portrait of a chic young woman holding a parasol against a background of lush foliage is viewed as a testament to Manet’s command of color and brushwork, and was one of the few resounding public and critical successes of his career. Scott Allan, associate curator of paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, takes us to the Getty’s galleries where the painting is on view and explores the significance of this extraordinary work.
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Jeanne (Spring), 1881 artwork information
JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
SCOTT ALLAN: This was one of the only pictures that really disarmed the critics and was a resounding success. So in some ways, it’s a crowning achievement of Manet’s career.
CUNO: In this episode, I visit the galleries of the Getty Museum with associate curator Scott Allan to talk about a remarkable painting that has recently entered our collection: Édouard Manet’s Jeanne (Spring) of 1881.
A half-length portrait of the actress and model Jeanne Demarsy, Manet’s painting depicts a fashionable young woman in profile against a lush background of flowering green bushes. Titled Jeanne (Spring) and dating from 1881, it is an exquisite and poignant picture, one of only two works Manet exhibited in the Salon of 1882 just a year before he died. It shows the artist’s mastery of touch and color and his unabashed embrace of modernity. It is the third picture by Manet to enter the Getty Museum’s collection. I joined curator Scott Allan the gallery to discuss the painting.
ALLAN: This is a picture that’s—I don’t know the exact dimensions, but it’s fairly modest in format. You know, less than a meter tall. But it was very significant for Manet because it’s one of his last public exhibition pieces, which he exhibited in the Salon in Paris in 1882 just a year before he died. And in his entire thirty-year career in the Salon, which as many people know, was extremely contentions and controversial, this was one of the only pictures that really disarmed the critics and was a resounding success.
So in some ways, it’s a crowning achievement of Manet’s career. He was, you know, very dogged and determined to win over the public with his art, and yet he kept exhibiting these, you know, tough, controversial pictures that people just could not even comprehend. But with this picture, which features a very chic, pretty, fashionable Parisian woman or Parisienne, as they were called at the time, there was a charm factor with this picture that just won everybody over. And—
CUNO: [over Allan] I see, well, it’s especially because its pair—that is, the picture with which he also exhibited in 1882, I think—is that right?—in the Salon…
CUNO: …was the Bar at the Folies-Bergère, a much larger, more ambitious painting, a painting—or a painting of some sort of dour importance. And this is like the conceptual alternative to that painting. Were they exhibited anywhere near each other, do we know?
ALLAN: They were in different rooms, as far as I understand it. And the Bar at the Folies-Bergère definitely got more commentary. But it was a contentious picture because of the way he had painted this mirror reflection behind the barmaid in that picture. And critics have—
CUNO: [over Allan] And the barmaid looks kind of sad and self-withdrawn.
ALLAN: [over Cuno] There’s a melancholy aspect to it. She is much more sort of self-possessed and aware of her impact on the viewer.
CUNO: What is the title of this painting?
ALLAN: It was exhibited just as Jeanne, the first name of the model. So not strictly as a portrait, but rather as a picture of a certain type, and Jeanne really representing the type of the young Parisienne. And that’s how critics talked about it. But it was—
CUNO: [over Allan] And she’s in profile. And back behind her is a garden setting, I suppose you’d say, yeah. And she’s wearing a dress that itself is patterned with flowers and garden elements as if she were emerging as a kind of blossom on this bush behind her.
ALLAN: Yeah. The composition is very decorative. And Manet was really interested, at this time, in finding ways to play figure off against ground. And as you’re describing, she’s—it’s quite a tight and compressed composition, spatially. As you mentioned, she is posed in profile, against this backdrop of greenery of flowering rhododendrons. And then she herself is wearing this kind of bright, form-fitting spring ensemble, a day dress, with fawn-colored suede gloves, a nice bonnet with roses and marigolds on it, and an umbrella posed over her shoulder.
CUNO: Would her dress have been recognized as fashionable at the time?
ALLAN: It would’ve been recognized as up to-the-minute, chic, the latest fashion. And in fact, we know Manet, like a lot of, you know, his friends, were very serious about women’s fashion, in the spirit of Baudelaire’s famous “Painter of Modern Life,” feminine fashion was one of those sort of hallmarks of modernity. And it was really central to Manet’s conception of modern painting. And we know in the spring of 1881, when he was beginning to work on this picture, he was sort of actively going around the shops in Paris, the milliners and so on, to source a fashionable ensemble that he wanted Jeanne to wear in this picture. So it’s very much of-the-moment and very much kind of in dialogue with fashion plates in the illustrated journals and magazines of the time.
CUNO: Given that its title is Jeanne, the first name of this woman, would she have been recognized by the public who came to the exhibition? Was she an identifiable public figure?
ALLAN: No. She later gained some recognition as an actress on the stage in Paris, later in the 1880s and in the early 1890s. But at this moment, she’s a teenager and working as a model. Manet represents her a few times in the late seventies, early 1880s. But she wouldn’t have been widely recognized. And the way that critics looked at this picture, they described her very generically as a type.
CUNO: So what are the aspects of this painting that he modified so that it didn’t seem so identifiable as a portrait but rather as a type of a woman?
ALLAN: Well, the thing that stands out for me is the particular profile of the nose. It sort of has a sharp profile, and there’s a slight upturn at the—at the tip of the nose. It just has this kind of perky lift. And that’s something that all the critics remarked upon as being, you know, very Parisienne. And when you compare photographs of Jeanne Demarsy to the painting, you notice that like, the profile of the nose is somewhat different. And so that, for me, is one very salient change that Manet made to make her a type.
CUNO: You can almost see him make that change, because the brushstroke that comes down the tip of the nose is a lighter pink than is the reddish one around the back of the nose, as if he’s [Allan: Hm] made a correction to it, as if to sort of pick up that perkiness that you were talking about…
ALLAN: [over Cuno] Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, I think—I mean, this is quite a heavily-worked picture. This is not done in a single session. And I think there’s considerable evidence of Manet really paying a lot of attention to the profile and getting the shapes just right and getting the profile just the way he wanted.
ALLAN: You know, we haven’t done all the technical imaging yet, because there was the desire to put it up in the gallery immediately when we acquired it. But we really need to do, I think, the full gamut of technical analysis, because it does look like there was considerable modifications to the profile in areas that you’re describing there.
CUNO: It must’ve been an effort for him at the state of his health at the time to make a picture like this. Certainly, the Bar at the Folies-Bergère must’ve been a huge effort. Because we think of him at this time as painting just those still lifes, just a couple of flowers in a glass vase. You know, they were—as if that was all that he could physically do at the time. Whereas this is a complicated picture that has to distinguish pattern on dress from pattern on paint in a way.
ALLAN: No, I think that’s right. And the young painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, who was a friend of Manet’s at the time, in his writings and memoirs—I mean, he talks about visiting Manet’s studio when we was painting this and describes it as, you know, this is something that is worked and reworked. And yet in the final result, it still has a marvelous freshness and liveliness to it. But painting was always, to some extent, a struggle for Manet. Even when he was in good health, he had a sort of a complicated relationship with painting, where you know, he wanted to get something right the first time, and he wanted to have that freshness of the encounter with the model, and to capture that.
And he was very quick to destroy and scrape and rework. And with his portrait sittings, he’s notorious for, you know, forty sittings in, still not being satisfying and reworking bits and, you know, doing the head over again.
CUNO: Bringing the sitter back again and again and again.
ALLAN: [over Cuno] And a lot of times when he was dealing with, you know, prominent politicians or whatever, after a couple sittings, you know, they had—they were busy. They couldn’t keep coming back to his studio. And so a portrait would be abandoned, just because Manet needed the model there and really depended on it. But the—you know, he was not facile, in the way of just being able to do something the first go. And I think part of the attraction of pastel—you know, he did have this kind of wonderful natural aptitude to it and was able to do it more spontaneously as he would a drawing.
CUNO: I know that you know a lot and that your colleagues know a lot about the dress and the history of the fashion at the time and so forth. Do we know anything about the history of makeup at the time? Because it does look like the face is powdered up, you know. Is there any understanding of what women did to their faces at the time to beautify them?
ALLAN: [over Cuno] I wish I was a makeup historian, [Cuno chuckles] but I think your mentioning of the face powder is important, and that is something that critics remarked upon. They mention, you know, rice power, I guess, was a common—common for face powder. And because of that resonance, they even compared the whole picture to pastel which seems strange to us. But there was—there was—it resonated with pastel somehow, and Manet sort of captured that softness and bloom of feminine makeup in his treatment of the flesh tones here. And actually, the painting was exhibited behind glass, as one would a pastel at the time. And that made the comparison even more obvious for contemporaries. So Manet is thinking across media at this time as well.
CUNO: So he projected this as one of four pictures, one each after a season. He completed another. Likely, he would’ve completed all four, do you think, but he died before he did complete them?
ALLAN: That’s the understanding. We don’t know what the other two pictures would’ve been or which models necessarily they would’ve featured. But it was common at this moment and there are other examples in the Salon of artists exhibiting a complete series of four. Alfred Stevens, a good friend of Manet, did a series on the four seasons featuring fashionable women. A female artist named Louise Abbéma, in the same year that this was exhibited, exhibited a series of the seasons featuring actresses from the Comédie-Française.
So it was definitely something that was in the air and that other artists were doing. And Manet’s good friend Berthe Morisot, who was exhibiting in the Impressionist exhibitions while Manet was exhibiting in the Salon, she actually painted, in very similar format to this, a Summer and a Winter, which were exhibited in 1880 in the Impressionist exhibition. So part of me likes to think that Manet’s Spring and Autumn in some way complement or are in dialogue with the Summer and Winter by Berthe Morisot, pictures which he would’ve known very well.
CUNO: Yeah. So he painted this on spec, he—it wasn’t a commission.
ALLAN: Well, my understanding is that his childhood friend Antonin Proust, who was—
CUNO: Was he the first owner of this painting?
ALLAN: He was the first owner of the picture and owned it at the time of the Salon. The idea is that he commissioned this series. But this was the only picture that he owned of that—of that series. And at the time, he was, in late 1881, early 1882, he was Minister of Fine Arts. So he was highly positioned in the new, you know, republican arts administration and did a lot to further Manet’s career at the very end. And for instance, the Legion of Honor was awarded to Manet at the end of 1881. So this was shown at a moment when Manet is sort of being officially consecrated in some ways.
CUNO: Yeah. You know, we think of this painting as a extraordinary painting of a kind of youthful exuberance. This young woman is looking to be in her early twenties, I assume. Doesn’t seem to be very old—
ALLAN: Late teenager, actually, yeah.
CUNO: [over Allan] Late teenager. This is—well, Manet himself is not that old at this time. He’s in his sixties, I suppose he is, maybe. But it is near the end of his life and he’s physically infirm. So there’s a kind of poignant quality to this painting, in which the painting seems to be a kind of positive, optimistic picture, where of course, he’s now deeply infirmed. He’s lost a leg? Has he lost a leg by this time?
ALLAN: [over Cuno] No, he loses a leg just a few weeks before he dies. But he is increasingly sort of immobile and sort of confined to his apartment and the studio. Each summer starting in, you know, 1879, he’s taking these rest cures in the suburbs of Paris. He’s undergoing hydrotherapy treatments, and he’s not able to go out and about in Paris the way he loved to do. And you know, his sort of identity as the man about town, the worldly flâneur, was such an intrinsic part of his identity that the confinement that he sort of had to endure at the very end, you know, does take on this sort of tragic quality. But from all accounts, he really maintained a fairly positive face. He remained as social as ever. And instead of going out to all the cafés, he had sort of society come to him and there was just a constant stream of visitors in his studio, and especially a lot of, you know, young, pretty models. And—you know, who he was representing not only in oil paintings like Jeanne, but also in these incredibly fresh and spontaneous pastel portraits [Cuno: Right] he was doing on canvas around the time. And he was thinking about eighteenth century French art, and there’s a kind of a Rococo spirit of exuberance, as you say, and a real embrace of femininity, which to our eyes seems, you know, especially French [Cuno: Yeah, yeah] and especially sort of Rococo. So there is this dichotomy between, you know, his declining health and then the public face that he’s putting forward with his art.
CUNO: Yeah. And when you look at a painting like this, you have to think back to earlier paintings, as if he’s reflecting on his career also. And those early paintings might include The Balcony, with Berthe Morisot and with his brother in the background, but also a fashionable woman, and the four of them all dressed in their finery at the time. That painting is—must be the late sixties?
ALLAN: I think so, yeah.
CUNO: Yeah? And then I’m drawn to [In] the Conservatory that’s in Berlin, which is a painting of the early seventies, in which this has the very beautiful young woman seated, wearing the finest, the fashionable clothes, seated on a bench in a conservatory with her husband, I suppose, or a suitor behind her, this man behind her, leaning over the bench looking down at her. He’s dressed as equally as beautifully as she. He in male garb, of course, she in female garb. And they’re set in a backdrop of floral patterning, like this bush sort of. So there’s the sense of recurring preoccupation with fashionable, with the high societal life, and the sense that he’s coming back to it at the end of his career. Is it a sense of looking over his career, do you think, at this time?
ALLAN: I think that’s true. And I’m glad you mentioned the In the Conservatory picture, which he exhibited, I think, in the 1879 Salon. And the idea for Jeanne really does date back to that moment. There are several conservatory pictures which, you know, have these backgrounds of greenery. And his very first pastel representation of Jeanne Demarsy, featured in this painting, date[s] back to that
moment. So there’s actually a pastel of Jeanne in profile, with a fashionable hat and dress, seated on that same bench, with the greenery backdrop. So I think the pictorial idea of this really does date back to that moment exactly and this is sort of the culminating point of that.
CUNO: But there’re also comparisons between the concept of these four seasons embodied by four different women in the finery dress to Japanese images—Japanese prints, I think, but maybe even Japanese watercolor paintings, but—and then I know that you have talked about or have shown a comparison between this painting and a sixteenth century painting. So was he aware of these kinds of traditions and he was drawing on those traditions?
ALLAN: Well, Manet was a great devotee of the Louvre and was, you know, highly conscious of art-historical tradition. You know, in the 1860s especially, there’s all kinds of references to Goya and Velázquez and eighteenth century French art as well. And there is a very well-known fifteenth century picture in the Louvre, by I want to say Pisanello, featuring a young aristocratic Italian woman against a backdrop similar to this—I mean, stylistically…
CUNO: [over Allan] A picture he could’ve seen.
ALLAN: …different, but a picture he could easily have known. And also to be fair, in the Salon in these years, there are many, many profile portraits against, you know, decorative backdrops. I mean, it was a pretty conventional kind of format. But Manet certainly would’ve been aware of the art-historical resonances, and as you mentioned, Japanese prints. There are these ukiyo-e prints featuring courtesans as seasons, you know, in kind of natural settings. So I’m not sure how well documented those are in relationship to Manet and if he would’ve been directly aware of those, but certainly, you know, there are plenty of people in his circle who were, you know, sort of in the cutting edge, in the vanguard, in terms of the discovery of Japanese art in France, and it’s likely that Manet would’ve known those.
CUNO: Yeah. So the painting’s exhibited in 1882 in the Salon?
ALLAN: [over Cuno] Yes.
CUNO: It’s already owned, I think you said, at the time, by Proust, yeah? And then Proust sells it. It goes into the collection of [Jean-Baptiste] Faure, is that right?
ALLAN: Yeah, who was a very well-known opera singer, who was in some ways, the greatest collector of Manet’s art, starting [Cuno: I think he owned—] in the 1870s. [Cuno: Yeah] He had a big collection.
CUNO: I think he owned In the Conservatory.
ALLAN: It’s possible. [Cuno: Yeah] I couldn’t say for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me. He had a huge collection of Manet’s art. And we don’t know exactly when he acquired it from Proust, probably sometime in the 1890s. And then eventually, Faure sold it the famous dealer of the Impressionists, Paul Durand-Ruel. And it was Durand-Ruel who exported the painting from France to the Paul Durand-Ruel gallery in New York, in 1909 I think, and then sold it to an American collector. And it stayed in that collector’s family until 2014 when it came up for auction in New York when the Getty had the opportunity to acquire it. So it’s wonderful to have it here because it’s a picture that’s been missing from all the major Manet exhibitions in the past fifty years. And we’ve kind of given it a new debut here.
CUNO: Yeah. So what does this painting do for our collection of Manet paintings?
ALLAN: Well, the Getty had two pictures in the collection already. We had a very early 1860s picture, a portrait of Madame Brunet who was the wife of a sculptor friend of Manet’s. And that’s done in that very Spanish-influenced style of Manet’s career at that time there. You know, it has—it basically quotes from a royal portrait by Velázquez and she’s wearing—
CUNO: [over Allan] She’s dressed in black.
ALLAN: She’s wearing a big crinoline dress in the big—that big kind of hoop-skirt dress that goes way out, which was the fashion in the Second Empire, which was completely out of fashion by the time he’s painting Jeanne in the early 1880s. And yes, Madame Brunet’s dress is very, very black, and it’s really a painting all about Manet’s mastery of black and his dialogue with masters of black like Velázquez. Whereas this is coming after Manet’s engagement with Impressionism. The palette is much lighter, much brighter. The brushwork is much more sort of broken, in an Impressionistic manner. But you’ll notice that there’s still some of the signature black in this painting in the—in the bow that—tying the bonnet in the portrait, so—
CUNO: And you said the painting now will be included—if it had a history of not being included in exhibitions, it’s going to be included in an exhibition that the Getty’s doing with the Art Institute of Chicago.
ALLAN: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there was so much excitement around the time of the acquisition of this. And maybe a week after we had put it up in the galleries here, my colleague at the Art Institute, Gloria Groom, was here visiting. And she had recently curated this wonderful show, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which was in Paris, New York, and Chicago. And so she was really excited that the Getty acquired this painting and said, “Oh, we have to—we have to do a show.” And I was like, “I agree. [he laughs] We have to do a show.” And that’s basically how it happened. So in summer and fall of 2019, we’re doing what is essentially a late Manet exhibition that will be structured thematically around Jeanne. So it will be Manet’s late pictures of women, but also garden and conservatory pictures, flower paintings, all of these things that resonate with this picture and that sort of sum up Manet’s interest late in his life.
CUNO: Well, it’s a beautiful picture and an important picture, and congratulations on the acquisition. And thanks for spending time with us this morning.
ALLAN: Thank you.
CUNO: Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. It is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, and SoundCloud or visit getty.edu/podcasts for more resources. Thanks for listening.
JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
SCOTT ALLAN: This was one of the only pictures that really disarmed the critics and was a resoun...