I/Eye: On Photography

Juxtaposition: Danielle and Victorine

Posted in Juxtaposition, portraits by Sheila Newbery on June 11, 2011

“He has the gift to capture dominant tones in their delicacy.”  — Emile Zola on Edouard Manet, from Salons (Paris, 1959), p. 92; quoted in Mona Hadler, “Manet’s Woman with a Parrot”, Metropolitan Museum Journal. The Victorine of this post’s title is, of course, Manet’s red-headed model, Victorine Meurent, who was also his Olympia (1865).

Woman with Parrot (1866) by Edouart Manet

Woman with Parrot (1866) by Edouart Manet

Meurent modeled for Manet a number of times, and for other painters as well, eventually becoming a painter herself. She exhibited in the 1876 Paris Salon (a year when Manet was rejected) and exhibited there again in subsequent years, while continuing to support herself by modeling. Mona Hadley’s discussion of the painting’s iconography in the above-mentioned source points out that the eye-piece dangling from a cord round Meurent’s neck is in fact a man’s monocle — not the popular feminine accoutrement, the lorgnette. Manet presents her here as both charismatic and fashionable society woman, but with an enticing clue as to her charm: a certain transgressive boldness held in reserve.

It’s impossible to know whether Victorine’s modeling led her to painting or vice versa. The bare chronology suggests the former evolution: from model to painter. I’ve wondered whether a sitter’s entanglement in Soth’s impetus to make a portrait has ever resulted in a similar transformation. Does his model here think about what it’s like to wield the 8×10 view camera? Her attitude is guarded yet calm; to me, she looks prepared. Her momentary disruption of the surrounding geometry conveys an assertive idea in subtle tones: I hold you in my gaze.

Danielle (Liverpool, UK, 2004) by Alec Soth

Danielle (Liverpool, UK, 2004) by Alec Soth

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