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Art History

Happy Birthday Victorine Meurent

Happy Birthday Victorine Meurent, born February 18, 1844!  I learned about Meurent when I recently researched for the Manet blog this past month.  With her birthday coming up this weekend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share what I learned about this artist and muse.

Early Life

Victorine Meurent was born in Paris, France to a poor working-class artisan family.  Her father was a patinator of bronzes and her mother was a milliner (hat maker).   

Meurent played the violin and the guitar.  She gave lessons on both instruments and also sang, performing at local café-concerts.

Victorine had gained the nickname La Crevette (The Shrimp) due to her petite stature and red hair.  

Self Portrait by Victorine Meurent. Painting of red-haired woman in a yellow dress looking at the viewer
Self Portrait, Victorine Meurent, 1876

There isn’t a lot of information out there about her life (at least not in online resources) most likely due to several factors – two of which were her gender and station in life.

Victorine Meurent the Model

In 1860 at the age of 16, Victorine Meurent began modeling for Thomas Couture who was an artist and also offered drawing classes for young artists. 

Meurent was most known as being the favorite model of Edouard Manet.  Manet used her as reference for at least nine paintings, beginning in 1962 with the Street Singer after seeing her walking in the street with her guitar.  She was the model for his two most controversial pieces – The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia – where she appeared nude.  The last painting she appeared in of his was The Railway in 1873.

She also modeled for painter Edgar Degas and Belgian painter Alfred Stevens.  She continued to model throughout the 1880s for Norbert Goeneutte and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  

She was featured in at least 30 different known paintings throughout her lifetime.

Street Singer by Edouard Manet. Painting of Victorine Meurent in a grey dress holding a guitar
Street Singer, Edouard Manet, 1862
The Railway by Edouard Manet. Painting of Victorine Meurent with a girl in a white dress
The Railway, Edouard Manet, 1873
The Parisian Sphinx by Alfred Stevens. Painting of Victorine Meurent i- red-haired woman n a pink and black dress.
The Parisian Sphinx, Alfred Stevens, 1870

Victorine Meurent the Artist

In the early 1870’s Victorine Meurent began to take art classes at Academie Julian.  She was one of the first women accepted into this prestigious private art school.  In 1875 she began studying with portrait artist Etienne Leroy.

Her relationship with Manet and other artists in that circle became strained while she began studying a more academic style of art.  I imagine that the public scandal that happened after Manet released his two masterpieces featuring her nude may have also played a part.

Palm Sunday by Victorine Meurent. Painting of girl in dark clothes holding a palm
Palm Sunday, Victorine Meurent, 1885

In 1876 she was accepted to exhibit at the Paris Salon for the first time with her self portrait painting (this was a year that even Edouard Manet had been rejected from the exhibit).  The Salon was the highly esteemed annual exhibition sponsored by the government and judged by Academicians of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  In 1879 her work was accepted into the Salon for a second time.  She exhibited at the Salon six different times during her life.

In 1903, Victorine Meurent was inducted into the prestigious Société des Artistes Français with the support of the founder Tony Robert-Fleury and Charles Hermann.

Style & Themes

Meurent was considered part of the Realism art movement.  The movement began in France in the 1840’s and departed from the previous Romanticism movement by using earth tones and accurately portraying real contemporary people and situations.

It’s difficult to have a full picture of the trends in her style and themes because so little of her art has been available to the public eye since her death.

Jup by Victorine Meurent. Painting of a small black and brown dog.
Jup, Victorine Meurent
Le Briquet by Victorine Meurent. Painting of a boy eating bread.
Le Briquet, Victorine Meurent, 1896

Death & Legacy

It was rumored that Victorine Meurent died early on the streets of Paris, however she actually lived into her 80s.  In 1906, Victorine left Paris for Colombes, a suburb six miles northwest of Paris.  According to census records she continued to list herself as an artist and painter.  She lived with Marie Dufour in a house that they both owned until her death on March 17, 1927 at the age of 83.  It was rumored that many of the house possessions were burned after the death of her companion in 1930, leading many to believe that her art might have been lost forever.

Starting in 2004, pieces of her work have started to reemerge from various museums and private collections.  In 2004 her painting Palm Sunday was discovered which now hangs in the Musée Municipal d’Art et d’Histoire de Colombes.  A decade later Le Briquet and Jup were found.  Most recently, (or last I was able to find at the time of writing this) her self-portrait was discovered.  After seeing the depictions of her from so many different artists, it’s interesting to see how she saw herself.  It will be interesting to see what other works will continue to emerge as people have become more familiar (again) with her name. 

Resources & Further Learning

If you enjoyed learning more about this artist, I encourage you to check out more of her paintings and research more in-depth articles about her life and work.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorine_Meurent
  • https://galeriejumelles.com/4968-2/
  • https://theartgorgeous.com/victorine-meurent-the-red-head-muse/
  • https://artsandculture.google.com/story/manet-s-model-the-story-behind-a-famous-face/WALyEbOY-reBJQ
  • http://www.glbtqarchive.com/arts/meurent_v_A.pdf
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_(art_movement)

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About the Artist

Photo of Laura Jaen Smith

Laura Jaen Smith is an artist who lives and works out of Horseheads, New York. Her inspiration comes from observing the beauty she sees around her.  After a decade living out west, she returned back to New York State and started seeing the same old places with new eyes.  She is most interested in capturing small moments in nature that might otherwise be overlooked.

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