The National Gallery in London has put an Édouard Manet painting that it owns under the microscope and come away with new and surprising revelations about it. The analysis of the painting, titled Portrait of Eva Gonzalès (1870), came ahead of a small show dedicated to the work, its sitter, and women artists of her era that will open first at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin this June and later travel to the National Gallery.
The titular sitter of the painting was the French-born artist of Spanish heritage who is herself shown putting a brush to canvas to render a still life of a vase filled with flowers. In Manet’s portrait of her, art mirrors life, and life mirrors art. Although the vase Gonzalès is painting is positioned somewhere outside the frame of his canvas, similar white flowers lie at Gonzalès’s feet. Other flowers reminiscent of ones seen in her canvas appear in the form of a design on the carpet beneath her feet.
A new analysis by the National Gallery has also revealed that there was once one more meta element too: a pot of brushes once lay on the floor, though Manet painted that over “in alignment with [his] striving for simplification and clarity of design,” the museum said. An X-radiograph also showed that Manet had redone the curls, and further examination also lent evidence that the artist had changed the way the chair and Gonzales’s dress were rendered.
“This provides insight into on Manet’s famously laborious process, in which scraping back and repainting was usual, but always disguised with spontaneous gesture and bravura handling,” the National Gallery said in its announcement.
Like many other women artists of the era, Gonzalès is generally not as famous as men of her era such as Manet, despite the fact that she was very much a part of his circle. She was Manet’s only pupil (and a rival of Berthe Morisot because of it), and she drew praise from critics at the time for works such as Box at the Théâtre des Italiens (ca. 1874), which features a man and a woman in a box seat at a theatre. That work, which is now owned by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, synthesizes older styles culled from Spanish art history and newer ones drawn from French Impressionists. Gonzalès’s career was cut short in 1883, when she died in childbirth at age 34.