The official Salon system in France thwarted Manet’s hopes and plans for public success, recognition and acceptance throughout his career. This prestigious state-sponsored institution rejected his submission of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe in 1863, resulting in the famous Salon des Refusés the following year. Although Olympia was accepted for exhibition two years later–the outlook of the jury was less archly exclusive than previously–this now iconic painting met with a disastrous reception, attracting criticism from all quarters that was not only rife with misunderstanding, but was often cruelly vindictive. These events, as history would tell, led to the emergence of the modernist avant-garde spirit as a growing force that would besiege and eventually vanquish the entrenched ultra-conservative ethos of the academic establishment, and irreversibly transform the face of art in the modern era.
As a portent of change to come, the final lifetime appearance of Manet’s work, in the Salon of 1882, only a year before illness resulted in his premature death at the age of fifty-one, would prove triumphant. He submitted that May two paintings: Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, 1881-1882–the supreme masterpiece of his career (Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. I, no. 388)–and the gorgeously eye-stopping Le Printemps, completed in 1881, offered here. Maurice de Seigneur described the effect of the latter painting on viewers in L’Artiste, 1 June 1882: “Manet’s defenders are delirious, his detractors stupefied” (quoted in G. H. Hamilton, op. cit., 1986, p. 249). As his response to a career’s worth of undeserved disappointments, slights and insults, continuing to paint well was Manet’s best revenge.
The most accomplished master of the figure among the practitioners of the “New Painting,” from the mid-1860s until his final year, Manet radically transformed the scope of modern portraiture to embrace a dialogue between a profound knowledge of tradition and his passionate engagement with the heady world of Belle Époque Paris. His stylish pictures constituted the indispensable core in the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, seen in Paris, New York and Chicago during 2012-2013, for which Le Printemps had been requested (exh. cat., op. cit., 2012). Manet was the pioneer, dean and the leading exemplar, among his colleagues as well as in the public eye, of a revolutionary new style and its contemporary content. The present portrait of the actress Jeanne Demarsy, cast as an allegory of spring, is the very climax of Manet’s approach in his painting to femininity and fashion, consummately manifest in the artist’s ground-breaking modern painterly style.
In early 1881 Manet considered the idea, proposed to him as a commission from his close, long-time friend Antonin Proust, a well-known journalist (not related to the novelist Marcel Proust), to paint a cycle of paintings depicting The Four Seasons, to be couched in the most contemporary and stylish ideals of feminine beauty and fashion. The appeal of such an allegorical conception resonated deeply with Manet, for this theme stems from the very essence of early mythology and is as old as the arts themselves. There are numerous representations of the seasons and related lore in Hellenistic and Roman art, as the allegorical Horae, in which female figures embody the various characteristics of the seasons, each bearing attributes of their significance in the yearly cycle, as they join together in a dance to the music of time. An ancient Roman deity specifically linked to spring was Flora, who symbolized the blossoming of flowers, prosperity and joy, as the Renaissance painter Botticelli featured her in his La Primavera, circa 1482-1483 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence).
Several painters had already done Seasons during the pre- and early Impressionist period, drawing upon the natural world and rural life, as Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Nicolas Poussin had done in their times. Pissarro painted a seasonal landscape series in 1872 in response to a commission from the Paris banker and collector Achille Arosa (Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, no. 238; sale, Christie’s New York, 6 November 2007, lot 11). Millet was at work on his cycle as Pissarro began his. Cézanne was a young man flexing his earliest ambitions at becoming a painter when he created his set in 1860-1861 as decorations for his family’s home in Aix (Rewald, nos. 4-7), using young Provençal peasant women to represent the seasons, thus closely echoing the ancient Mediterranean ideal of the Horae, as well as referencing French Rococo cycles by Boucher and Watteau.
Manet would also interpret the seasons as female figures, but in adherence to his late friend Baudelaire’s conception of the contemporary urban painter as the astute flâneur, a dedicated connoisseur of la vie moderne, he would of course interpret the Horae as fashionably attired attractive young women whom one might encounter daily in the Bois de Boulogne, the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Tuileries. A contemporary figure cycle in this vein that had caught Manet’s eye and made Proust’s suggestion seem a capital idea, suggesting how successful the Seasons might prove for the artist at the Salon and thereafter as sales, was the sequence Alfred Stevens recently painted and sold to the Belgian industrialist Arthur Waroqué (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts), a reprise of the group the artist created in 1869 and 1875-1876 to fill a commission from Leopold II, King of Belgium.
Antonin Proust performed an immeasurable service to later historians of Impressionism by taking notes of his frequent meetings with Manet, whom he had first met as a fellow student in the Collège Rollin, Paris, during the mid-1840s. Manet painted Proust’s portrait in early 1880, succeeding in his aim to accomplish this feat in a single sitting (Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. I, no. 331); he showed this painting in the Salon later that year. Proust recounted in his Souvenirs of Manet, published in 1897, a meeting with the artist in 1881, after he had already proposed the suite of seasons to him: “Manet spent a day in ecstasy contemplating some material that Mme Derot was unrolling. The next day, it was the hats of a well-known milliner, Mme Virot, which filled him with enthusiasm. He wanted to design a costume for Jeanne, who subsequently took on the stage name Mlle. Demarsy” (quoted in T. A. Gronberg, ed., op. cit., 1988, p. 272).
Manet had chosen Jeanne Demarsy, an attractive actress in her late teens, as the model for the first of his seasons, which he painted in his Rue d’Amsterdam studio. Born Anne Darlaud, the daughter of a bookbinder and a brocade maker, Jeanne was the younger, remarkably look-alike sister of the already successful actress Eugènie-Marie Darlaud. Adolphe Tabarant described Jeanne as “bien jolie, mignonne, pimpante, effrontée, un papillon de boulevard” (op. cit., 1947, p. 414). Her fresh, youthful beauty caught Manet’s eye just as she was embarking on her theatrical career. He painted a portrait study of her, also in 1881 (Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. I, no. 374); she is possibly the model in several pastels as well (vol. II, nos. 18, 19 and 48). Demarsy later achieved success and a measure of fame with her performance as Venus in the 1887 production of Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers at La Gaîté. Both she and her sister attracted well-placed, powerful and wealthy lovers; when Eugènie-Marie died in 1914, she left a half-million francs to Jeanne.
With an eye to early Renaissance portraits of young noblewomen, such as Pisanello’s Princess of the House of Este in the Louvre, Manet posed Jeanne in profile. He evoked the arrival of spring in his treatment of Jeanne’s specially designed flowered dress, her lacy parasol, her bonnet regaled with blossoms, and the profuse verdant foliage of rhododendrons he painted behind her. Manet was also making reference to the idea of the seasons as symbolized by beautiful women in Japanese Ukiyo-e color prints, such as Utamaro’s bust- or half-length portraits of courtesans, actresses and dancers with floral motifs.
Le Printemps was already underway during the fall of 1881 when Manet began to make plans for the next installment in his series of seasons. Proust recorded the artist as informing him: “Speaking of figures, I’m going to do one when I’ve finished Spring. I’ll paint Méry Laurent as Autumn [Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. I, no. 393]. Yes, she’s agreed to sit for her portrait. I discussed it with her yesterday. She’s had a fur-trimmed coat made by Worth. And what a coat! It’s fawn brown with an old-gold lining and I was in raptures over it... As I was leaving, I told Méry Laurent that when her coat was worn out, she should leave it to me. She promised she would. It’ll make a wonderful background for the things I’m planning to do” (quoted in J. Wilson-Bareau, op. cit., 2001, p. 259). In both Seasons paintings Manet’s intense pleasure in the intricacies of fine fashion, as well as the very sensual aspect of the materials themselves, is felicitously apparent, as if such textiles and hand-sewn adornments were as astonishing to him as the beauties of nature itself.
Of the Four Seasons, Manet completed only Le Printemps and very nearly L’Automne. There is a painting in a less finished state, Amazone de face (Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. I, no. 394), one of three paintings Manet began on this theme during 1882 (the two other are nos. 395-396), which some have speculated may have been the artist’s idea for a painting meant to represent Summer in his cycle of seasons. However, as Edmond Bazire, Manet’s friend and first biographer lamented, “Time failed him... ‘Winter’ and ‘Summer’ were never painted, and it is a loss and a regret the more” (op. cit., 1884, p. 113).
Both Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère and Le Printemps were rapturously received in the Salon of 1882. Jeanne Demarsy and Méry Laurent both appear in Un Bar along the balcony reflected in the large mirror to the left of the standing hostess. Armand Silvestre, reviewing the Salon for La Vie Moderne, was delighted to discover in the painting of Jeanne Demarsy “the charm of the most beautiful Japanese images with a Parisian perfume” (quoted in K. Adler, op. cit., 1986, p. 216). “It is one of the best, the most original, and most harmonious paintings [Manet] has yet produced,” wrote Louis de Fourcade in the 4 May 1882 edition of Le Gaulois. And referring to Manet as a painter of contemporary life and style, he further declared, “The time will come when he will be ranked as the Goya of France, endowed with some of the virtues of Frans Hals” (quoted in ibid.).
“Since we are speaking of living flowers, let me introduce you to Jeanne by Edouard Manet,” Maurice de Seigneur wrote in L’Artiste, 1 June 1882. “She is not a woman, she is a bouquet, truly a visual perfume... Mlle. Jeanne strolls past, proud and coquettish, in profile, her eyes alight, her nose turned up, her lips parted, with a winning air. A parasol, long suede gloves, not quite twenty years of age, and a full fine figure. That describes her” (quoted in G. H. Hamilton, op. cit., 1986, p. 249).
In addition to acknowledging the considerable merits of modernism in Manet’s art as they had never done before, critics and journalists also commented on the emergence of a new kind of feminine public persona, a growing focus of interest in the contemporary urban milieu–the stylish young Parisienne, adorned in the latest fashions that appeared on the covers of department store catalogues, asserting herself through self-display, while enjoying the glances from observers both male and female. Jeanne Demarsy’s “snub nose, her red lips give away her sensuality while her brown eyes shaded by long lashes denote her indifference,” commented Fourcade. “As a soldier carries his rifle, so she shoulders her grey parasol... This woman is a Parisienne of today” (quoted in E. Darragon, Manet, Paris, 1989, p. 390).
“Manet’s chic Parisienne is a picture of feminine agency under the rule of spectacle,” Ruth E. Iskin has written. “[She] has shed all traces of Greek marble sculpture and discarded the physiognomy and costume of women from ancient cultures. She is wholly French and unmistakably Parisian, representing a nationally inflected feminine chic” (Modern Women and Parisian Consumer Culture in Impressionist Painting, Cambridge UK, 2007, p. 214). Manet’s treatment of Jeanne Demarsy, and with it the attention she attracted, transformed her into a Belle Époque forerunner of the present-day fashionista and the magazine cover girl.
The new French Président du Conseil Léon Gambetta appointed Antonin Proust minister of arts in November 1882, empowering him to ease the way for Manet to receive the state accolade of becoming a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, which the artist was awarded on 30 December. When the critic Ernest Chesneau–who had been following Manet’s career with interest from the beginning--wrote to congratulate the artist, he received the latter’s reply that if the honor had only been bestowed upon him earlier, “It would have made my fortune; now, it is too late to repair twenty years without success” (quoted in B. A. Brombert, op. cit., 1996, p. 444).
The success of both paintings in the Salon of 1882 led to a wide-spread call for reproduced images of both Le Printemps and Au Bar. The latter, however, did not lend itself to reproduction without halftones, and Le Printemps became the Manet image in demand. Manet made an India ink drawing in 1882 after the painting (Rouart and Wildenstein, vol. II, no. 439), which became the basis for an etching with aquatint done soon afterwards (Guérin, no. 66), the artist’s final work in this medium. Charles Cros produced a trichromatic photograph of the painting, printed in reverse, which was used to illustrate the cover of Ernest Hoschedé’s Impressions de mon voyage au Salon de 1882 (op. cit., 1882). Le Printemps thus became the first published work of art ever reproduced in color. Charles Cros was not only a poet and a writer but also, together with Louis Ducos du Hauron, an inventor of color photography. He and Manet became great friends and would meet in literary salons, one of which was hosted by the pianist Nina de Callias. She became Cros’s mistress and was immortalized by Manet in La dame aux éventails, 1874 (Rouart and Wildenstein, no. 208; Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Both Le Printemps and L’Automne were shown in the Exposition posthume Manet in Paris, 1884, the year following the artist’s death.
Le Printemps suggests a new tack Manet might have taken if he had lived to work further into the 1880s. “Despite the abundance of adornments and trappings, this is a highly structured work,” Helen Burnham has pointed out. “[Jeanne’s] static silhouette has less to do with the expression of character than with the controlled presentation of an impersonal ideal... she becomes something of an icon within a planar decorative scheme, not unlike the more abstract and intensely silhouetted female subjects that would soon characterize the work of a younger generation of painters” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2013, pp. 256 and 258). Seurat, who surely saw Le Printemps in the 1882 Salon and the posthumous Manet exhibition two years later, alluded to the profile view of Jeanne Demarsy in his own promeneuse who dominates the right side of La Grande Jatte (Hauke, no. 162), shown at the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition, 1886. The Parisian feminine silhouette became central to the Nabi paintings of Bonnard and Vuillard during the 1890s.
Matisse introduced his career-long preoccupation with the idea of woman as the femme-fleur, like Jeanne Demarsy a modern incarnation of the classical goddess Flora, in the brash tonalities of La femme au chapeau, shown in the famous salle des fauves at the Salon d’Automne of 1905. In nearby rooms, the organizers of this showcase for progressive new art had installed a concurrent retrospective honoring the memory and achievement of Manet, the fons et origo of the all subsequent modernist cosmopolitanism in Parisian painting.
Had he lived to complete the Seasons, Manet might have next undertaken another allegorical scheme which Proust proposed to him, on a far grander public scale, relating to the wines and regions of France. In such works Manet could have achieved the ultimate apotheosis of la vie moderne, placing his preferred choice of subject matter within the larger context of both artistic tradition and a contemporary social dimension, creating an aesthetic continuum that–like the seasons–connects past, present and future.
Just as Antonin Proust had first suggested the idea of Le Printemps to Manet as a commission, so he became the painting’s first owner when he made payment on it, in the amount of 3000 francs, to the artist on 2 January 1883, as Manet recorded in his final sales memoranda (J. Wilson-Bareau, ed., op. cit., 2001, p. 267). The painting subsequently entered, by 1902, the holdings of the important Impressionist collector Jean-Baptiste Faure. The dealers Durand-Ruel acquired the painting from Faure in 1907 and shipped it to their New York gallery from which Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne purchased it in 1909. Le Printemps thereafter passed to Colonel Payne’s descendants and into the possession of the same family’s private foundation. Of the thirty paintings that Manet exhibited in the official Salon during his career, Le Printemps is the last remaining in private hands; the others are all in museum collections.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Payne rapidly made a considerable fortune from iron manufacturing and oil refining. He courageously left Yale to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, achieving the rank by which he was customarily addressed thereafter. He was later on guided by H.O. Havemeyer when putting together what would become an exceptional art collection ranging from Chinese Ming ceramics to Old Masters and Impressionists. Payne displayed these works throughout his impressive Mediterranean palazzo built by famed architects Carrière and Hastings in the Hudson Valley on the grounds of the former Astor estate. Highlights included the Rubens Venus and Adonis, currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Turner Juliet and Her Nurse, which became the most expensive work of art ever when sold at auction in 1980, and the Degas The Dance Class, which Havemeyer was said to have regretted not owning right until his death. Coincidentally, both Le Printemps and The Dance Class were owned by the patron, and commissioner of the later, Jean-Baptiste Faure. During the past two decades, Le Printemps has been on loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Subject Photo Jeanne Demarsy, photographed by Félix Nadar. BARCODE: art321021_jeanne_dhr
Fig. A Edouard Manet, Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère, 1881-1882. Courtauld Institute, London. Exhibited at the 1882 Salon, alongside Le Printemps. BARCODE: 28863847
Fig. B Edouard Manet, Portrait d’Antonin Proust, 1880. Toledo Museum of Art. BARCODE: 28863878
Fig. C Pisanello (Antonio di Puccio Pisano), Portrait of a Princess of the House of Este, 1435-1449. Musée du Louvre, Paris. BARCODE: Pisanello_016_dhr
Fig. D Kitagawa Utamaro, ‘Stone Bridge’, from the Series An Array of Dancing Girls of the Present Day, 1793-1794. Private collection. BARCODE: 28863892
Fig. E Edouard Manet, L’Automne (Portrait de Méry Laurent), 1882. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy. BARCODE: 28863908
Fig. F Edouard Manet, Amazone de face, 1882. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. BARCODE: 28863915
Fig. G Edouard Manet, Jeanne: Le Printemps, 1882. The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts. BARCODE: 28863922
Fig. H Ernest Hoschedé, Impressions de mon Voyage au Salon de 1882, cover, 1882. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. BARCODE: 28863939
Fig. I Georges Seurat, Un dimanche d’été à l’île de la Grand Jatte, 1886 (detail). The Art Institute of Chicago. BARCODE: nyrphxrl
Fig. J Henri Matisse, La femme au chapeau, 1905. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. BARCODE: pz274_sfmoma