The woman in the painting was looking at her. Luz was at the Musée d’Orsay in front of Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur herbe. The woman in question was sitting on the grass totally naked next to two men fully clothed. Luz knew that the painting had created quite a scandal and that the first time it had been shown, an outraged man tried to hit it with his umbrella.
Le Dejeuner made viewers uncomfortable mainly because of the way that the model, Victorine Meurent, looked at them. Men, accustomed to rubbing their eyes all over women’s bodies, could not accept Victorine’s gaze that said “instead of you looking at me, I’m going to look at you”. Women were not considered their equals.
Luz knew that Victorine, Manet’s favorite model, had often been described by art historians as a drunk and a prostitute. But it wasn’t true. Victorine was a woman from a poor family who wanted to be an artist. She sang in cafes, gave violin lessons, and modeled just to earn money for art lessons. And, in 1862, going from one gig to another as a street musician playing her guitar in cafes, she met Manet. Intrigued, Manet asked her to model for him. He painted her eating cherries on the street, as a matador without a bull, and as a woman with a child near Gare Saint-Lazare.
Victorine also posed for the paintings considered to be Manet’s most scandalous: Le Dejeuner sur herbe and, Olympia (who’s wearing only a black ribbon and a pair of slippers). It wasn’t as if women had never been represented without clothing before. But they had been represented as goddesses or mythical beings who were nude but not naked.
Alone I am nude. In front of you, I am naked.
Because artists’ models of the time did not have the same consideration as today’s top models, they were often considered as little more than prostitutes who often slept with the artists who painted them. However, it’s unlikely that Victorine had a relationship with Manet since the artist suffered from syphilis and died of it at the age of 51 whereas Victorine lived to be 83. Plus she seemed to have a preference for women.
Victorine had one of her paintings accepted by the Salon the same year Manet had been rejected. In all, she was accepted by the Salon six different times and, in 1903, accepted as a member of the Sociéte des Artistes. Nevertheless, the art critic Adolphe Tabarant, saw her not as an artist but simply as a drunk aging beauty who had arrived at a “fin douloureuse”. He even wrote that Victorine was dead even though she was still alive and painting.
When in her 40s, artist Norbert Goeneutte painted Victorine with her guitar. Then, too old to model and unable to earn enough money from her paintings, Victorine became an usher in a theater until she moved to Colombes outside of Paris. Here she lived with the piano teacher, Marie Dufour, for 20 years.
After the death of Victorine and Marie, the contents on their home, including paintings and a violin, were burned in the yard. All that’s left of of Victorine’s struggles to become an artist is Le jour des rameaux, a painting now located at the museum in Colombes.
After leaving the Musée d’Orsay, Luz Corazzini knew she would have much to write about in her diary. Luz felt that the French Revolution’s motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité” was not intended for women. Nevertheless, Victorine, despite economic and social status difficulties, had exhibited various times in the Salon thanks to her desire and determination to become an artist. For Luz, Victorine was a feminist heroine. And to show her appreciation, Luz went to Le Marché Saint Pierre and bought some black velvet ribbon. She wanted to walk around Paris wearing a choker like that of Olympia in honor of Victorine.
[from THE DIARY OF LUZ CORRAZZINI]
Victorine’s addresses in Paris:
39 rue Folie-Mericourt (with her parents)
191 rue du Faubourg Poissonniere
17 rue Maitre Albert (next to the hotel Notre Dame)
1 Blvd de Clichy 3rd floor (where she lived with courtesan Marie Pellegrin)
69 rue Douvai (Lautrec’s studio)
21 rue Bréda (with her lover Janine)
6 ave Marie-Therese( but the street’s name has been changed to Tilly ?) (where she lived for 20 years with the piano teacher Marie Dufour)
8 rue Guyot now rue Médéric (Manet’s studio)