The exhibition Manet and Modern Beauty celebrates painter Édouard Manet’s often overlooked final years, when despite his declining health he produced pictures and drawings with a new lightness and brightness of spirit and palette.
Jeanne (Spring) anchors the show and provides a point of entry to this period of the artist’s career, when the themes of fashion, flowers, and femininity consumed his attention and fired his imagination. Another important painting, Autumn (Méry Laurent), began as a companion to Jeanne. The two pictures were to be part of a series of the four seasons, in which each season would have been represented by a chic Parisian woman—a popular conceit in the artist’s day.
For us as curators, one of the central goals of the show was to reunite these two works and share the stories behind them.
The Story of Spring and Autumn
Spring and Autumn were the only pictures Manet managed to paint in the seasons series before his untimely death in 1883, and these two were separated almost immediately.
Jeanne was purchased in 1882 by Manet’s close friend Antonin Proust and eventually found its way into an American private collection, where it remained for more than a century before the Getty Museum acquired it in 2014. Autumn entered the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy, in 1905.
Manet is such a dominant figure in the story of modern art that the women he relied upon as models and who actively collaborated in his art-making have been overshadowed by his enormous reputation.
In the case of Spring and Autumn, the historical record is extremely uneven, in a way that highlights the scholarly detective work yet to be done. Paradoxically, we know far more about the model for Autumn—a painting with no public reception during Manet’s lifetime—than we do about the model for Spring, one of the most resounding successes of Manet’s career.
Who were these women who worked with Manet on his series? What place did they have in his social circle, and what impact did they have on his art during his final years? These were some of the questions that guided our research.
The Mysterious “Jeanne”
By the end of the 19th century, the painting now in the Getty collection had become widely known as Le Printemps, or Spring. But when the artist first exhibited it in the 1882 Salon—to much critical acclaim—he simply entitled it Jeanne.
Who was this young woman? Jeanne was an utterly commonplace name at the time, and not a single Salon reviewer commented on the model’s identity, presenting the picture instead as a depiction of a fashionable social type: the chic and pretty parisienne.
Manet’s sitter was not identified until 1897, when Antonin Proust wrote that Manet “wanted to design a costume for Jeanne, who subsequently took on the stage name Mlle Demarsy and who modeled for the exquisite canvas Spring.”
Given the painting’s original title, Jeanne, and Proust’s identification of the sitter as “Mlle Demarsy,” art historians have repeatedly given the actress’s name as Jeanne Demarsy. But considerable evidence indicates that she went in the theatrical world by Jane, not Jeanne.
Biographical entries from the turn of the century, notations on some surviving celebrity photographs, the cover of her 1937 estate sale catalogue, and the inscription on her funerary monument all indicate “Jane.”
Who Was Jane Demarsy?
Prior to her acting debut in 1887 this Jane Demarsy, born Anne Darlaud, was already a reputed beauty, an occasional artists’ model (depicted, for instance, by Renoir), and evidently a member of Manet’s social circle.
The catalogue for a 2016 exhibition on the theme of prostitution identified Manet’s young model as the “Jeanne de Marsy” featured in The Pretty Women of Paris, a salacious guide for Englishmen to Parisian prostitutes. There is just one wrinkle: the anonymous author indicates that “her real name is Jeanne Huart,” not Anne Darlaud.
What are we to make of this apparent contradiction? Should we conclude that “Jeanne de Marsy” and “Jane Demarsy” were different people? Or are we are dealing with a complicated case of concealed or fabricated identities?
To address these questions we conducted genealogical research, hoping to determine whether there were any verifiable links between the names “Darlaud” and “Huart.” Intriguingly, there did seem to be one. As Anne Darlaud’s 1865 birth record and other documents from Parisian archives attest, her parents were named Jean-Baptiste Darlaud and Adèle Huard.
Could it be that Anne—only 16 years old when she sat for Jeanne—used her mother’s maiden name as cover and went for a time as “Jeanne” before reinventing herself as “Jane” when she took to the stage? Perhaps to distinguish herself from her older actress sister Eugénie-Marie, who went, intriguingly, by the stage name Jeanne Darlaud? There is a fascinating and tangled story here that we are only just beginning to unravel.
Whatever stature Jane Demarsy earned as an actress, she never shook her reputation as a so-called demimondaine, or “woman of easy virtue”—a reputation that attached almost automatically to actresses in Manet’s day. In January 1938, soon after Demarsy’s death, the journal La Vie Parisienne published an appreciative notice about this “sensational beauty of the turn of the century,” noting that her passing will be mourned by “many old gentlemen sadly reminiscing about their youthful conquests.”
Méry Laurent, Manet’s Last Muse
Wrapped in a dark, silky fur, with stylish russet bangs grazing her forehead and a jewel sparkling in her ear, the very different model for Autumn cuts a handsome profile against a blue textile embroidered with fall-blooming chrysanthemums.
Manet based this background on a Japanese robe lent to him by his friend Antonin Proust, the first owner of Spring. Proust, however, did not own Autumn, since Manet never finished it.
Autumn was inventoried with the contents of Manet’s studio at the time of his death and sent out for retouching by another painter before its sale in February 1884. Retouched areas seem to include the slightly flat, coarse embroidery pattern at lower right and the thickly painted patch just left of the model’s profile, but the overall effect remains faithful to Manet’s vision.
Here a stately, mature model in sable and sapphires plays an elegant autumn to the teenaged ingénue of Demarsy’s spring. The model for Autumn was not chosen for her appearance alone, though. She was Méry Laurent, a retired actress of formidable intellect and vivacious temperament, who counted among Manet’s most intimate friends.
Born Anne-Rose Suzanne Louviot in the Eastern French city of Nancy, Laurent penned a vivid account of her turbulent youth in 1888. There she explained that her mother had been an unwed laundress who consented to marry her young daughter off at 15 to a local grocer in order to hush up the girl’s entanglement with the military governor of Nancy, some 40 years her senior. The marriage was short-lived, and at 16 Laurent found her way to Paris, where she made a name for herself on the stage in the early 1870s.
In Paris Laurent was less well known for her dramatic abilities than for her semi-nude appearances in the role of Venus, perched on a seashell. (This was the same role that would make Mademoiselle Demarsy a star half a generation later.)
In 1874, at just 25, Laurent retired from the theater altogether. She would be kept in style for the rest of her days by her lover Thomas Evans, a cultivated American dentist who had made a fortune speculating on the Parisian real estate market. In 1880 he bought her a house in western Paris where she hosted a lively salon. Regular guests included painters, musicians, and many of the most eminent writers of the age: Stéphane Mallarmé, Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and the young Marcel Proust. Years later Proust would immortalize Laurent as the character Odette de Crécy in In Search of Lost Time.
Mallarmé and Laurent were also lovers, and it was Mallarmé, a close friend of Manet’s, who first introduced her to the painter. In the spring of 1876 Manet opened his studio to the public to exhibit a pair of pictures rejected by the Salon jury that year. One of them, Laundry, now in the Barnes Foundation collection, depicts a woman and child doing laundry outdoors. As both a budding connoisseur of modern art and the daughter of a laundress, Laurent loved and understood the picture at once. She sang its praises and charmed its author, who immediately befriended her and asked her to pose for at least eight pictures.
But for Manet, Laurent was not merely a model. She was also a patron, confidante, and perhaps something more. She is the only woman other than his wife, Suzanne, addressed in Manet’s letters using the informal you (“tu”). And she is the only correspondent with whom he shared the painful and humiliating details of his bouts with depression and his medical treatments for the symptoms of tertiary syphilis.
Laurent and Manet also shared a keen appreciation for women’s fashion. His portraits showcase her sumptuous taste in hats, furs, and jewels. Laurent’s own penchant for Japanese attire likely influenced the artist’s decision to pose her before Proust’s robe in Autumn.
Laurent’s influence is felt far beyond the works for which she actually sat—indeed, she was a sort of presiding muse for much of Manet’s later work. It was Laurent, the artist’s early biographers tell us, who encouraged Manet to make pastel portraits in the first place. It was Laurent, too, who encouraged him to paint flowers, bringing roses and especially lilacs to his studio, his sickbed, and—later on—his grave.
Laurent placed her elegant social network at his disposal, introducing him to her glamorous actress friends and their wealthy lovers, who helped assure a reliable market for his pastels and still lifes. She collected his work and encouraged Dr. Evans to follow suit. Manet’s last known work, a pastel sketch that unfortunately does not survive, depicted Elisa Sosset, Laurent’s maid, whom she had sent over with a sugar egg at Eastertime in 1883.
Though Laurent was not the buyer of Autumn when it went up for sale with the contents of Manet’s studio in 1884, she acquired it subsequently, and upon her death at the turn of the century, she bequeathed it to the museum of her home town, Nancy.
Last seen together nearly 40 years ago, Spring and Autumn—Demarsy and Laurent—are reunited at the Getty Center in Manet and Modern Beauty.
Manet and Modern Beauty is on view at the Getty Center October 8, 2019–January 12, 2020.
This is awesome, I never knew that artist can tell stories about their personal lives with their paintings.