Wednesday, September 07, 2011

‘Hortense Had Her Adventures’

Edouard Manet, the quintessential prototype in manner and art for the Impressionist generation, is best known for the work he did with a professional model, Victorine Meurent, but his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, posed for him many times, especially before their marriage, when she was his mistress. It was said that Manet was so demanding of his models it was critical for them to have a personal commitment to his work in order to put up with the difficulties of posing for him.

Ruth Butler
writing in Hidden in the
Shadow of the Master

I’m reading this book right now. “Hidden in the Shadow of the Master,” by Ruth Butler. The subtitle of the book is “The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Monet and Rodin.”

Normally when I read a non-fiction book I first flip quickly through the whole book, page by page. Then I look carefully through the index and any appendices. I read epilogues first, to have an idea of where the author will be going with the book. Then I get back to the beginning and start reading the book from the front.

I’ve just finished reading all the back-matter for this book. I haven’t actually started from the front yet. But I’ve already noticed something interesting.

Because the author will be talking about Cezanne and Monet, there are quite a few index entries for “Manet.” However, even though the book will be about artists and models, there are no index entries for “Morisot.” And there is only one index entry for “Meurent,” that quote above.

It seems strange that the author would single out Manet as a “prototype” for that era, but then not go into details of Manet’s relationships with his models. And if Manet’s models had, as the author says, “a personal commitment to his work,” which apparently is a literary way of saying a romantic relationship with the painter, then Manet’s interactions with Morisot would have made great reading in a book like this.

However, judging by the index, this book will not be addressing the Byzantine goings-on of Manet’s studio. Too bad.

I picked up this book because I wanted to get whatever details the author may have discovered about Hortense Fiquet, Cezanne’s wife.

Hortense is an interesting woman. Even writers who say mean things about her usually grudgingly observe that she posed for Cezanne more than any other model, and because Cezanne was such a demanding painter—in terms of his sitters—Hortense, everyone admits, at least gets credit for indulging her husband’s needs for a model.

In the back-matter of this book there is an interesting reference to a conversation the author had with Hortense’s great-grandson. The author points out that among all the criticisms art historians have leveled at Hortense, infidelity was typically not one of them. However, the author says Hortense’s great-grandson “...assured me that the general feeling within the Cezanne family was: ‘Hortense had her adventures.’”


Again, one would think that if this is what the book is about, there would be more about Manet and Meurent and Morisot.

Damn it.

Anyway, so I’m reading this book now. Artists and models and wives.

And their adventures.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to learn here. I’d like to know more about these people and their time because I’m interested most of all in the issue of Morisot’s paintings and my notion that Edma may have painted the really good ones. It certainly seems clear that all these people—both the men and the women—had their “adventures.” If they could have romantic adventures, then they may have had other kinds of adventures as well.

If I learn anything cool from this book I’ll do a follow-up post.

I guess I should say one other thing, too. This is kind of dumb, but one reason why I keep reading about these people and their time goes back to my post “The Garden’s Edge.” Now, I don’t like graphic novels. And I’m not a comics person. But when I did that pretend graphic novel by Berthe Morisot—which I’d intended only as a one-off joke—I was kind of struck by how well, to my eyes, an impressionist-style painting seemed to perform as an illustration to a story. To me it seemed to work. If there were a real graphic novel by Berthe Morisot, (or Edma!) I’d want to read it. So, you know, somewhere in the back of my mind I’m kind of thinking: Hmmm, maybe I should write something for real like “The Garden’s Edge” and maybe I should illustrate it for real with paintings similar in style to what I characterize as Morisot’s “good ones.” I don’t know. It’s the kind of thing that seems to me like it might be fun. I’m thinking about it. It might be a cool adventure...

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