Progression of Art
A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens
In 1874, Gonzalès painted A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens, which she is thought to have submitted to the official Salon that year only to have it rejected. She reworked the painting, which one scholar claims was "one of the most provocative paintings of its day," and resubmitted it to the Salon jury, who accepted it for the exhibition in 1879 to "a rapturous reception," according to the Musée d'Orsay.
The auditorium of the theater and often the box, which immediately conveys the privilege of the occupant, was a favored theme of the Impressionists; indeed, the same year Gonzalès painted this picture, Renoir painted La Loge (1874), which depicts a very similar scene, although the man and woman in his theater box image are compressed more tightly together in the pictorial space.
The two figures in Gonzalès painting are her sister Jeanne Gonzalès and her sister's husband, the graphic artist, Henri Guérard. There is a pronounced awkwardness, a sense of acute detachment, between the two who actually married one another after Gonzalès died (but that marriage would occur 14 years after this painting was executed). Jeanne leans forward, slightly out of the box toward the viewer while looks to the side, possibly making eye contact with someone outside of the picture plane. Perhaps they're occupying themselves during an intermission or prior to the beginning of the performance.
According to the Musée d'Orsay, Manet produced a "pastel version" of this painting, but it isn't clear whether or not he did so as a form of instruction before Gonzalès had completed the work or if he sketched the finished painting, which was a common practice among artists for centuries. The museum also points out that the bouquet resting on the ledge to the right of Jeanne's elbows, very closely resembles the one being presented to the reclining woman by her maid in Manet's Olympia. That seems likely but is hardly evidence that the work is in part the result of Manet's direct intervention. There would have been nothing inappropriate about Gonzalès creating a visual homage to her mentor, which is also a common artistic practice. On the other hand, Manet taking too active a role in the work of his female followers is not without precedent. There is an infamous episode in which Morisot was extremely upset when Manet took the liberty of modifying one of her canvases.
An assessment of this painting by a contemporary of Gonzalès, the well-known French feminist, Maria Desraimes, provides an interesting viewpoint of A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens that may explain why the work caused a sensation in its day. Desraimes identifies the two figures in the loge as spouses based on what she concludes is a "reciprocal indifference of...two spouses." They are, she continues, individuals "living for their own private reasons." While she sees the woman as engrossed in the performance, Deraismes asserts that the man, so clearly disinterested in both his spouse and the performance is as "cold and fatuous" as he is wealthy.
A Loge at the Théâtre des Italiens (1874), was selected by the Salon jury to be included in the annual exhibition in 1879. Completed five years earlier, the painting had been rejected and she had reworked it. Gonzalès also exhibited her work on a handful of occasions at venues in Paris, including at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1883 and in an all-women-artists exhibition.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay
Nanny and Child
Gonzalès fled to Dieppe, a city on the sea in Normandy, France during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and continued to visit the city frequently for years afterwards. Nanny and Child was produced in Dieppe. She first exhibited this painting at the Salon of 1878, although it had an alternate title, Miss et bébé. The "Miss" would have tipped off viewers that the nanny was English; to have an English nanny was to be wealthy in France at the time.
In this painting, the nanny takes center stage. She sits looking wistful rather than attentive to her charge, who is also absorbed in her own activity. The young woman's parasol sits discarded beside her as there is no need for it while she rests in the shade of the trees. She seems to be perched at the entrance to the yard, with the house behind her in the distance; while the gate stands open, she is the only obstacle to the child exiting or someone entering. The background is softened to simulate the effect of objects fading in the distance and Gonzalès, like her Impressionist colleagues, has explored the effect of light at a particular time of the day in an outdoor setting.
The theme of this work, a woman looking after a child - a quiet, domestic scene - is typical of the work of the women Impressionists, who were quite restricted by propriety in terms of who and where they could paint. Ironically, while the gate stands open, both the nanny and the young girl remain within the boundaries of the fence.
The painting was met with mixed reviews at the Salon. One critic complained that the figure of the nanny was not sufficiently modeled and therefore seemed flat, comparing it to a Japanese print, which was a deficit as far as the academics were concerned but not in the minds of the Impressionists, many of whom admired and imitated just such features of Japanese prints. The critic Jules Castagnary, however, praised the work, including the artist's brushwork, which is quintessentially Impressionist.
Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Gonzalès's sister, Jeanne, makes another appearance in this painting. Here she's pictured just awakening. The light is the soft light of morning and the overall image is awash with it. She looks as though she's not yet fully awake. Indeed, the artist has captured a moment in time - which was one of the fundamental objectives of Impressionism in addition to depicting the effect of light and atmospheric conditions on the world.
Like her fellow Impressionists, Gonzalès used severe cropping imitative of photography to further enhance the suggestion that the picture is sort of a "snapshot" of a moment of real life. Because of the cropping, which eliminates part of the bedside table, the bed, the curtain, and even the gown of Jeanne the viewer has the sense of being included in the scene - perhaps even closer than is appropriate. This close proximity enhances the sense of intimacy and sensuality of the work as does the pose, which seems to make the drowsy, reclining woman more vulnerable.
According to the Kunsthalle, there is a companion piece to this painting in which Jeanne is in an identical pose but her eyes are closed, suggesting that she is still sleeping. The work, which the museum refers to as "a sketchy counterpart," is in a private collection. It is less brightly colored, thus potentially connecting Jeanne's waking moment to sunrise and the illumination of objects, thus revealing their color.
Oil on canvas - Kunsthalle, Bremen
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)
By the early 1880s, Gonzalès's had detached little by little from a painting style that more closely resembled the academic Realism of her first teacher, Chaplin, and the avant garde naturalism of Manet. Instead, she has clearly absorbed the sketchy, overt painterly style of the Impressionists, although the title and theme of this work must surely have been, at least in part, a tribute to Manet and to his famously controversial painting (1862-63) of the same name.
Gonzalès's version of this common Impressionist theme otherwise bears little resemblance to Manet's Le Déjeuner, whose seated female figure, the model Victorine Meurent, was interpreted as a prostitute sitting naked on the grass between two clothed men. The seated woman in this painting, whom the artist zooms in on, is once again her sister Jeanne. Jeanne holds a fan in her left hand, suggesting it is a sultry day and is bathed in the dappled sunlight of a late summer afternoon. She leans one elbow on a wooden chair. It isn't clear if she is alone as the unusual, close cropping of the picture, a distinct feature of the Impressionist style owing to photography, isolates her when she very well could be in the company of others. The tipped picnic basket on her right side suggests the meal has ended and her relaxed pose reinforces this suspicion.
The manner in which the artist has loosely defined the forms in the painting, a feature so emblematic of the Impressionist style, resembles the markings of a drawing. Gonzalès has wielded her paintbrush more like a pastel crayon than in the more rigid academic style she was schooled in early on. As a result, forms seem to dissolve, softening like the light she is attempting to describe.
Oil on canvas - Private collection