While looking at an artistic masterpiece, fascination cannot help but arise within me when I take a look at the painted persons in the work that move with such an unforgettable presence, that speak with magnificent tones, that feel the surroundings, relationships, and emotions that live amongst them, that stare with storytelling eyes of depth, that travel on journeys to breathtaking lands, and that wear fashions that are significant in the themes and stories they notably emanate. Fascination cannot help but arise within me, especially when I take a deeper look at these painted persons, when I take a look at the females behind the painting, the female models that dazzle with a vital presence.
The models that are painted in artistic works have always captured my attention–who were they? Where were they from? What is their story? I have always been mesmerized by the lives of these interesting females, always intrigued by their movements and sights in daily life…the historic moments that they witnessed, the talents that they came across, the occupations that they delved into, the lives they carried out. I have always been mesmerized by these models who wear fashions that are so important to works of art…fashions of embroidered, velvet gowns, as well as feminine, airy summer dresses, fashions of magnificently wide, patterned skirts, as well as modernly defined, freshly cut slacks, fashions of conservative evening wears, as well as coquettish, bold undergarments.
Victorine Meurent is one of these models that capture my attention.
Victorine Meurent was a famous model for painters such as Edgar Degas, Alfred Stevens, and especially, Édouard Manet. Born to a family of artisans, Meurent came from a poor, working-class background. She began modeling at the age of sixteen with Thomas Couture, as well as performing musically in cafés during her years. And she had a powerful desire and firm ambition to make a name for herself as a female artist (which she did succeed in fulfilling by taking painting classes at the Académie Julian and having her works appear at the 1876 Salon and other future exhibitions). Meurent was known as Manet’s favorite model, appearing in numerous, gender-breaking works, that defied the constraints and moral commonalities of society. In these works, the modern desires and personalities of both Meurent and Manet rise to the surface. Meurent’s own independence appears, her desire to tear away at gender norms and to succeed in a profession not readily acceptant of women, her desire to live a life uncommon for women at the time in society and to paint freely, without restriction. Manet’s naturalistic depiction of the world appears, his creative, avant-garde mindset that wanted to challenge the traditional rules around him.
The fashions in these works help to further reveal these thoughts of autonomy and conviction and these actions of rebellion and defiance. In Manet’s works such as Young Lady in 1866…(shown above), Victorine Meurent is depicted wearing a pale pink, satin dressing gown, a peignoir, that is only meant to be seen and worn indoors. This visibly intimate article of undress and Meurent’s teasing pose help to signify both Meurent’s and Manet’s modern outlooks on society and life, in general. Meurent is not painted with the following and praise of conservative, customary guidelines–Meurent is painted as a woman with a brazen attitude and a seductive stance, a woman of a modern era. With the fashionable item of the peignoir worn, the alluring quality of boldness within Meurent is shown.
In Manet’s works such as Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe)…(as previously shown in my May inspiration post, Barriers and Constraints are Broken), Meurent is depicted as a woman unafraid of judgements and established traditions. She is depicted as a woman who is proud of herself, her mind and her body, and uncaring of the rules society enforces. Meurent’s lack of clothing, along with the background female’s sheer white day dress, contrasting with the full contemporary day wear fashions of constrictive black coats and collard shirts worn by the surrounding men, further emphasizes Meurent’s own personal desire to break gender restrictions and Manet’s wish to remove restrictive moral conventionalities from expression. Victorine Meurent stares at the viewer with an aura of calmness, confidence, and modernity, demolishing female stereotypes and embracing liberation.
The female figures are fascinating in artistic works…
And the lives these women (models) behind the paintings really lived are just as fascinating.