Autumn by Homer Winslow, 1877, oil on canvas, 97.1 x 58.9 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The most recognizable female model of the 19th century, Victorine Meurent, the model for Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) and “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass 1862-3), was born in Paris in 1844, into a working class family. Her father was an engraver (or patinator of bronzes), her mother ran a laundry shop (or was a milliner). Supposedly she met Manet, rich and aristocratic artist by then, sometime in 1860s in the studio of Thomas Couture, where she posed and probably studied painting. She had been Manet’s favorite model for at least a decade. His paintings of Meurent would become the world most famous ones.
Meurent also sat for Puvis de Chavannes, Alfred Stevens (it is said they were lovers), Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, she was a talented painter herself and even exhibited her self-portrait at the Salon in 1876, the same year that Manet’s canvases were rejected. Victorine took evening classes at the Academie Julian. She also played violin and guitar and sang in cafes.
Meurent was a petite woman with red hair, and had a nickname La Glue and la Crevette - shrimp. Many scholars considered her as a prostitute and an alcoholic (when she was in her 40s, Norbert Goeneutte painted her as an alcoholic guitar palyer “La femme au singe” 1890), and Manet’s lover, who drowned herself in drinking and died young. Yet, as it was discovered in the late 20th century, she lived till the age of 83 with a female companion, probably lover, while Manet died at the age of 51 from the complications associated with syphilis he had suffered from.
Victorine became an accomplished artist as her canvases were exhibited at the Salon six times. She became the member of the Société des Artistes Français in 1903.
In 1870s she traveled to United States and returned to Paris in 1875.
Manet: Street Singer, ca. 1862, oil on canvas, 171.1 x 105.8 cm, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Manet: Young Lady in 1866 (Woman with a Parrot), 1866, oil on canvas, 185.1 x 128.6 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Manet: The Railway, 1873, oil on canvas, 93.3 x 111.5 cm, Washington, National Gallery of Art