In today’s blog I am looking at the life and work of the nineteenth century French painter, Eva Gonzales. Eva Gonzalès is one of the great women artists of the nineteenth century along with Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond. She was associated with the Impressionist movement despite her not exhibiting any of her paintings at any of the eight Impressionist exhibitions.
Eva was born in Paris on April 19th 1849 into a middle-class family. Her father was Emmanuel Gonzalès, who came from a bourgeois family of Spanish Monegasque origin. He was a novelist and playwright and her mother was Marie-Céline Ragut, who was a musician and daughter of a Lyon industrialist. Eva had a younger sister, Jeanne Constance Philippe Gonzalès. Both Eva and Jeanne were encouraged to study art. Eva could not attend the most prestigious art school, Ecole des Beaux-Arts as, at the time, the school did not accept any women who wanted to study art. However, coming from a wealthy family, it allowed her parents to buy the services of the top teachers and after she left school in 1866 she began taking lessons at the women’s studio run by the French portrait and landscape painter and printmaker Charles Chaplin, who was connected to the state-funded French Academy.
One of Eva’s early paintings was entitled Le Thé which she completed in 1865.
In February 1869, following a long period of classical training Eva took the decision to enter the studio of Edouard Manet and become his pupil and improve and refine her art. She admired Manet’s work despite all the controversy surrounding some of it. Manet had a provocative, some would say, scandalous reputation. He was a major player in the avant-garde art scene. He had repeatedly challenged the art establishment, submitting bold and unconventional works such as his 1863 painting, Déjeuner sur l’herbe, depicting a scantily dressed bather, a nude woman sitting at a picnic with two fully clothed men. The Salon jurists rejected the work and so Manet decided to exhibit it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) which was a parallel exhibition to the official Salon, as an alternative exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Elysée. Manet completed another work that year, a nude painting, entitled Olympia, which was accepted by the Salon jurists in 1865 but the art critics and many of the public viewed the work as being shocking and scandalous when it was first unveiled at the Paris Salon.
Eva had been introduced to Manet in 1869 by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens and subsequently became his only pupil. She exhibited three works at the 1870 Salon, one of which was Enfant de troupe (Soldier boy).
It was a positive artistic homage to her teacher’s Le Fifre (The fifer), which Manet had completed in 1866. Ironically, the Salon jurists rejected the work.
At the same (1870) Salon at which Eva had her painting, Enfant de troupe, exhibited, Manet ‘s portrait of her was also on show. The portrait was thought to have begun in February 1869 and involved numerous sittings, with the completion being around March 1870 and was shown at the Salon the same year. The portrait depicts Eva painting at her easel. She is shown wearing an immaculate flowing white gown with transparent bodice, low-cut neckline and short sleeves and it brings to mind portraits by Goya who had influenced Manet and this Spanish-like appearance also reminds us of Eva’s Hispanic identity. The dress fills Manet’s masterpiece, with its brightness contrasting against the dark background making it almost an artificial light source. The one question the portrait brings to mind is whether we are looking at Gonzales the painter or Gonzales the artist’s model. If Manet wanted to highlight his pupil as an accomplished artist would she not have been posed in a painter’s smock standing, observing her painting and with brush on the canvas. Instead Gonzales is depicted in what would have been thought, at the time, as an immodest pose. A pose with so much bare skin that would have normally been modelled by a member of the lower-class hired sitter.
On the floor besides her we can see a half-rolled canvas carrying Manet’s signature. This is a simple reminder to the viewer of his role as Eva’s teacher. .
Theatre auditoriums, and in particular the theatre boxes were popular places for the “society” people to mingle and exchange gossip and were popular depictions often chosen by the Impressionists. The most famous of these works is one by Renoir entitled La Loge (The Theatre Box) which was exhibited at the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 and now is part of the London Coutauld’s collection.
Eva Gonzales completed a similar work entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A box at the Théâtre des Italiens), which she also completed in 1874. She submitted this painting to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but it was rejected. Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and, five years later, once again submitted it for inclusion at the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted. The critics loved the work. Gonzales was pleased to tell people that she had been a pupil and a good friend of Manet. Manet’s influence on Gonzales can be clearly seen in this painting in the choice of a modern subject and the way Gonzales has juxtaposed light with dark, with the pale skin and light-coloured fabrics against a dark background. Also, note the inclusion by Eva of the bouquet which rests on the edge of the box and its similarity to the bouquet held by the maid in his Olympia depiction.
One also has to remember that Manet made a pastel sketch of a similar depiction which may have influenced Gonzales when she made changes to her original painting. Look at the way Eva has depicted the two people in the painting. There is a strange disinterest between the two figures. On the right we have Henri Guérard, Eva’s husband. In 1879 Eva had married Guérard after a three-year courtship. He was a graphic artist and Manet’s engraver. The two people who often sat for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne, who after Eva died in 1883, at the age of 35, married Guerard and became the step-mother of her sister’s child.
One of my favourite paintings by Eva Gonzalès was her early work entitled Le Moineau (The Sparrow). The teenage model for this painting was the artist’s sister Jeanne. Jeanne Gonzalès appeared in over twenty of Eva’s works. It is a portrait of great elegance. It is a depiction of quiet introspection, and it illustrates the intimate connection that existed between Eva and Jeanne. Eva has focused on the graceful features of her favourite model, her younger sister Jeanne who was then in her teens, Eva’s portrait is a study on the interaction between light and shadow. She has focused the direct light on her sister’s bare back, and casts Jeanne’s face in soft shadow, which gives a somewhat air of inscrutability. Jeanne is dressed in a swathe of transparent chiffon, seems lost in her own thoughts, as she gazes off into the distance. Meanwhile, balanced on the edge of her hand, is the little sparrow. It looks enquiringly up at her. Eva has added touches of bright colour with the ears of corn that embellish her sister’s braided hair.
Another painting by Eva Gonzales featuring her sister Jeanne is her 1877 work entitled Morning Awakening. Eva Gonzales never completed a self portrait but featured her sister in many of her works. Maybe she believed there was a familial resemblance. This is a natural everyday depiction of her sister awakening in the morning. This painting portrays a young woman, soon after she has awakened. Her facial expression is one of being distant, not quite fully aware of he surroundings. Eva has concentrated her depiction on the skin and black hair of the female which contrasts vividly with the white of the bedding and her bedclothes. It is thought that Manet had advised Gonzales to depict her sister naked in bed but she refused the erotic suggestion and in all her works which featured Jeanne she was always depicted as a “pure” person.
It is believed that Jeanne Gonzalès was a mirror-image of her sister, Eva, and in her paintings of her sister, Eva depicted Jeanne the way she wanted to imagine herself. Around 1872 Eva completed a portrait of her sister, simply entitled Portrait de Jeanne Gonzalès. It is an excellent and intimate portrayal of her sister. Jeanne is adorned in a dress made of soft delicate fabric. Here, Jeanne is pictured wearing an elegant pale pink and black dress, her brunette hair swept into an elaborate style and adorned with a pink ribbon and in her hand she holds an open fan. The painting was completed soon after Eva Gonzalès had begun studying under Manet, and there are elements of Manet’s style in the depiction such as the soft brushstrokes, plain and simple background devoid of any items or colours which would detract from the sitter. Jeanne also has the same inscrutable look of contemplation that are reminiscent of Manet’s attention-grabbing female portraits. However, in this work Eva has implanted into this portrait of her sister a feeling of tenderness which is a telling reflection of the intimate kinship between the two women.
For my last choice of paintings by Gonzalès I have chosen another work by her which was probably influenced by one Manet’s famous works which he completed in 1873 entitled The Railway. Eva’s painting is entitled Nanny and Child which she completed whilst in Dieppe in 1878. In her work she depicts an interplay between a nanny and a child. The Nanny looks out at us as she sits on a bench. To her right her young charge, who has her back to us, is grasping at the lattice work of a fence.
Manet’s painting was the last one featuring Victorine Meurent who was his favourite model and who had modelled for Manet for his infamous works, Olympia and the Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Le Chemin de fer (The Train) was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874, and eighty years later donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1956 by Horace Havermeyer, the son of a prominent family from New York, of German origins, that owned significant sugar refining interests in the United States. In Manet’s painting we once again see a Nanny and a young girl. They are positioned by an iron fence near the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. The daughter of Manet’s neighbour Alphonse Hirsch models the young girl.
The most obvious difference between the two works is space. Eva Gonzalès has chosen to make her depiction full of open space whereas Manet’s work is somewhat claustrophobic in the way he has depicted the two figures hemmed in between the narrow foreground and the black metal railings. Gonzalès has gone for an airier open-space depiction of a summer’s day with sunlight streaming through trees in the background. Eva Gonzalès’ work is not just a copy of her Master’s painting. It is a well considered and highly original response to the subject, which she has reimagined and turned into a work, wholly new and unquestionably her own.
In 1879, after a three-year engagement, Eva married Henri Guérard, a graphic artist and Manet’s engraver. The couple had a son named Jean Raymond who was born in April 1883, shortly before Eva received news of the death of Manet on April 30th 1883. A week after the death of her mentor, on May 6th 1883, Eva Gonzalès died of an embolism at the age of thirty-four. Her death left her son to be raised by his father and her sister, Jeanne, who later became Guerard’s second wife.