Oftentimes, the models who posed for famous paintings are overlooked. We are much more inclined to focus on the artist and on trying to interpret the meaning behind the painting. Except for a handful of iconic paintings, the models’ identities remain unknown, as do their stories. Take this painting for example:
Some of you may recognize it as Edouard Manet’s famous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass, 1832–1883). The jarring image of the naked picnicker is probably quite familiar. She appears in a number of Manet’s paintings including his famous Olympia:
Who was this gal and what was her story? Her name was Victorine Meurent. Her fascinating story is the subject of a newly released historical fiction novel, Victorine by Drēma Drudge. The book pulls the curtain back on Ms. Meurent’s life, her relationship with Manet and her own artistic aspirations.
I’m thrilled to have secured an exclusive interview with author Drēma Drudge who will also select one of my lucky blog followers for the giveaway prize of a free copy of Victorine. Read the interview below.
Welcome to Art and Beyond, Drēma! What inspired you to write a book about a model as opposed to the painting or the artist?
From the moment I saw Victorine Meurent as Olympia in the painting by Manet, I felt she had things to say that the canvas couldn’t contain. Her eyes were condemning the viewer, yes, but it went deeper than that; to me, she was clearly playing a role and not with much patience. Her personality was so large that even Manet couldn’t wrestle it into staying on the canvas alone.
My first encounter with her was as a PowerPoint slide a professor put up for his class The Painted Word. I couldn’t quit staring from one side of the painting to the other. When I saw the actual painting at Musée D’Orsay the next year, I had an even more intense feeling that Victorine really did want to speak to me. That’s when I began to research her and discovered that she was also an artist herself.
Long story short, I didn’t choose her; she chose me.
There were many model muses in art history. I have to ask – why Victorine?
The more I studied Victorine, the more I discovered that outside of Manet’s paintings, we don’t know much about her. She needed someone to give her back a voice, to bring her back to “Herstory.” For instance, no one remembered that she was an accomplished artist!
The primary book I studied to learn what little there is to know was Alias Olympia by Eunice Lipton. At the time she wrote her book in the 1990’s, no paintings of Victorine’s were thought to have survived.
By 2004, one painting had been rediscovered and had made its way into the museum in Colombes, the town Victorine lived in when she died. Though I really wanted desperately to see other paintings of hers, because I felt I would know so much more about her if I could see her subject matter and how she painted, at least I had the one. I’d have to make it enough, or so I thought.
Thankfully, during my research, my husband and I put together clues and rumors, did deep internet dives, and found that not only one, but that recently three more of her paintings have been recovered. I was giddy to discover this!
The most exciting one is on my book’s back cover. It’s her self-portrait, one from 1876 that was accepted by the prestigious Paris Salon in a year when Manet’s work was rejected. We believe my book is the first place her self-portrait has been printed, and I am so honored.
Being able to study how she saw herself, instead of seeing her as only painted by so many men, helped me to feel confident that I had read her correctly. (We didn’t discover the painting until just before the book went to press, and yes, my editor said she would stop the press while I made a few last-minute adjustments.)
Do you think Manet would have been inspired to paint some of his most famous works if it were not for Victorine?
No, I don’t think he would have. You see Victorine in those paintings of his such as Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass, and who could have modeled with that same aura of arrogance, confrontation, and simultaneous disengagement that was so prevalent in his paintings of her? I think her bravado gave him courage.
One of the interesting and unexpected discoveries in your novel is the fact that Victorine was an artist in her own right. How did this influence her role as Manet’s muse?
It appears that Victorine didn’t officially become an artist until after she quit sitting for Manet, and yet that artist’s eye must have been developing in her all along. I think they more or less “co-created” the paintings. In my novel I have her challenging him, helping him to really think about what he’s painting and why. I can’t know if that’s how it was in real life, and yet his was such a unique talent, it does seem that he had to have been influenced by someone or something outside of what was in vogue. I’d like to think that someone was Victorine.
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My own recently released novel ‘L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece‘ divulges the identity of a model who has remained a mystery for over a century. The book is receiving amazing reviews – check it out and order a copy for yourself or as a gift. Merci!!!