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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Eva Gonzales

Portrait of Eva Gonzales, 1869-70, Edouard Manet
Eva Gonzales Self-portrait, 1860s
The most valuable aspect in studying history has little to do with memorizing dates and names. Those are only peripheral means to an end. No, the important thing about history is the way in which it provides a context for the present. Whatever perspective might be used--military, political, social, artistic, economic, religious--history allows us to frame our world today in a manner through which value judgments regarding current events can be made more accurately. Nowhere is this more the case than when we look at social customs at various mile markers in history--fifty, one-hundred, one-hundred-fifty years ago. A hundred-fifty years ago would be 1864. The U.S. Civil War was still raging. In Paris, ladies' dresses were as wide as they were tall. I've always wondered how women managed them in using an outside toilet (history doesn't tell us that). Speaking of ladies, they were worshipped and admired for their beauty, charm, and child-raising talents. They were placed high on a social pedestal (and then told to stay there). A lady who cared anything about her reputation did not go out without a gentleman escort. She was obliged to wear a torturous corset (below) to maintain an hour-glass figure (whether she had one or not). Even relations between a husband and wife were surprisingly formal. And never, under any circumstances, was a woman to compete professionally with her male peers (if, indeed, she had any).
A Loge in the Théâtre des Italiens, 1874, Eva Gonzales
Study at a Window, Eva Gonzales,
not portraits, just studies.
Eva Gonzales was a lady artist, a French Impressionist of Spanish descent who, indeed, had several male peers. She was born in 1849. At the age of sixteen, as upper-class young ladies were expected to do, she began developing her innate talents. In this case, music and painting. She studied first under the French society portrait artist, Charles Chaplin (not Charlie Chaplin, he hadn't even been born yet). Then, shortly after she turned twenty, Eva Gonzales became the only formal student of the French painting icon, Edouard Manet, who promptly used her as a model for a portrait exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1869. (Several of Manet's Impressionist friends also painted her.) She appears quite attractive, and though she had developed no small amount of talent, one still might reasonably ponder whether it was her feminine charms or her painting skills which won her a place in Manet's studio.

The Awakening, 1877-78, Eva Gonzales.
Manet would have insisted the model be nude. (The model was Eva's sister.)
Woman with a Bun, Eva Gonzales--
the subject is hair, not nudity.
In many ways, Gonzales and Manet were much alike. They were of the same social class. And, though they both painted Impressionistically (at times), neither stooped to displaying with the "disreputable" Impressionist as did Morisot and Cassatt, both of whom she undoubtedly knew and considered friends. Like her female counterparts, Gonzales' choice of subject matter was limited almost exclusively to women and children. It is there where any similarities to her painting instructor ended. You won't find any Olympias or naked ladies picnicking in the grass with fully dress gentlemen among her work. Her work is quite feminine and highly refined in every respect except perhaps her Impressionist style. She used her family and female friends as models, posed (or caught) in their daily lives of social restraint and refinement.

Reading in the Forest, Eva Gonzales. Where's the impressionist color?
La Toilette, 1879, Eva Gonzales
Eva Gonzales, like any good Impressionist, sometimes ventured outside, though there are precious few landscapes to her credit and most of her paintings of nature involve female figures enjoying it. Frankly, she wasn't very good at painting nature--Monet had nothing to worry about. Besides a few landscapes, I found one painting said to be of The Blue Mosque (below). I'm guessing it was done by copying another painting, or from a photo, in that it is so inaccurate as to have cause me to go in search of which Blue Mosque she might have painted (there were about ten of them in her time). It appears to be based upon the one in Istanbul, though there's no record of her ever having visited that part of the world. Islamic architecture was not her forte.

The Blue Mosque, Eva Gonzales (apparently the one in Istanbul).
The Window, Eva Gonzales.
That's not to in any way unduly limit Eva's skills as a painter. As her lovely young ladies depicted in The Window (left) would attest, she was the equal of any portrait painter in Paris at the time. Instead, as I've indicated above, her painting limitations came largely as she politely and strictly observed the social limitations imposed upon upper-class ladies of her day; and as the result of one other limiting factor. In 1879, Eva married a graphic artist named Henri Guérard. On May 6th, 1883, She died giving birth to their first child. She was thirty-four. Her total number of paintings number less than a hundred. History tells us death has a way of limiting an artist's output. Eva's mentor, Edouard Manet, had died just six days before.

The Clarion, 1869-70, Eva Gonzales--one of her few male portraits.



  1. I'm glad you've noticed the Fleeting Star. Did you know Manet wiped and re-painted her face more than 40 times in first portrait (according to rival Morisot)?, and included as always a tiny 'mole' or 'fairy kiss' 1 cm below her right lip extreme. Dear fellow researcher, there is no blemish or 'fairy kiss' on chiseled chin of 'self-portrait' above, and she no '60's teen.
    Neither wonky eye is looking at herself, so the picture can't be her view.

    This elfin-faced pixie with auburn curls is not the fleshy looker that stole Manet's infatuation, it's (surprise surprise & some tears- was sold with official Certificate 16 months ago) 'big-eared' Berthe Morisot aged 30, in symbolic, white transparency, the pensive bride, in twilight of maidenhood here surrendering her relationship with Manet to her rival facing with the flying brush. Eva's fleeting caption of this last moment responds to buoyant density of Manet's 'Berthe in Black' 2 yrs before, and seen in perspective must rate among Eva's greatest works. I know this because I found who may be her only undisputed self-portrait, inscribed in Artist's elegant hand; '46'. Mille Vue_' (Thousandth Look'), corresponds with 46th finished portrait since first collaboration with Manet. According to ceremonial fringe and wedding-gold, made for the Master in first weeks of marriage, and commemorating exactly 10 years of their association (top painting, which he gave Eva. 'Mille Vue_ is her reciprocal and concluding Tribute and gift). Like Berthe before her, once married she would never pose for him again. Be glad to show you the fabulous, fearlessly beautiful, vanity-defying apparition in 'Mille Vue_' if you send link wishes, James Gorin von Grozny

  2. Dear Jim,

    Can you tell me why you believe the 'white' oil-sketch is Eva's self-portrait?

    You might be interested to know, the official expert Mm M.C. Sainsaulieu, presumably informed with strong provenance not disclosed, compared her to one unspecified portrait (of Eva) by Manet, and another by unknown maker in private hands- no reference to sister Jeanne's exquisite, 'warts an all' pencil-study or 3 good photos.

    Am curious because you evidently do your best to look into and understand pictures, while our opinions are influenced by others we respect and trust.

    And what if an expert gets it wrong? Monet's have been refused simply because too 'ordinary' and would deflate average market values. Callous?

    In my case pretend the contradiction doesn't exist (and hope I die first, probably).

    Look forward to your thoughts and any examples of incompetent, corrupt or self-serving, highly regarded opinion.

    Corking w/end here in S/W England.

    Best wishes, James Gorin

  3. James--

    Thank you for your interest and your informed opinion regarding the Eva Gonzales self-portrait. As I'm sure you're aware, attributions and dates as to the work of relatively minor artists, especially female artist without a great body of work, can be a treacherous venture onto slippery, sloping, thin ice. That's often the case with painters who were a part of a tighly-knit art circle as would seem to be the case with Eva. When their styles are similar (or virtuallly identical) and they tend to use one another as models, not to mention intervening years of more than a century and a half becoming a factor, no attribution can be 100% certain.

    Likewise, the image Manet had of Eva and her own self-image as reflected in a self-portrait can differ radically. In this case, however, the problem is the two images are so similar yet the portraits differ considerably. Manet painted a highly finished, highly regarded portrait of a female artist whom he apparently (judging from your words as to his dissatisfaction with his repeated attempts to "capture" her in oils) he seems to have held in high regard, even a great deal of affection. Eva's presumed self-portrait, on the other hand appears to be a fairly flattering, youthful oil sketch, highly reflective of her mentor's style, but not the verisimilitude he was pursuing.

    As for the "beauty mark" mole, if you look closely at an enlargement of the image in question, you'll note that there IS, in fact, a lightly rendered, carefully placed mark similar to Manet's version. It's not altogether outside the realm of possibility that the oil sketch could be a preparatory work by Manet for his 1869-70 portrait, but my (admittedly second-hand) references (I try to find at least two in dealing with self-portraits) both accept the attribution of this work to Eva herself.

  4. Thanks for those thought Jim.
    The portraits are 'similar but differ' because they are by different artists, Student and Master.
    The 'fairy kiss' in sketch you refer to is above the lip- not 1cm directly below rt lip extreme.

    There is no reason to suppose the oil-sketch is by Manet after all- it's Eva's work, but you're right to suppose it's not a self view or self portrait.

    If you look rationally at the oil-sketch you can see neither eye looks at the viewer, her left eye splays outward, originally I thought this was Eva's subtle mischief- but I was wrong and love being wrong, because boy you can find the answer.
    Now look at all or any portrait of Berthe Morisot, an intriguing detail Manet always observed, she has a rare condition known as 'reversed esotropic vision'. She was 'cross-eyed' outwards. Your readers will be among the first to know. I have the real Eva, perhaps the only indisputable self portrait. Inscribed the 'Thousandth Look' (Mille Vue_') dedicated to Manet exactly 10 years after his first effort which he had given her.
    You're wrong to describe Eva as a minor artist The female artists in Manet's circle are art's most popular women- Manet modernized art- Eva was his only Student. One of 20 abstract portraits of her sister, a pastel drawing, raised $2.5m. If the Fleeting Star so minor, why are we discussing her?
    Because her work was always, fearlessly beautiful

    Best wishes, James