Victorine Louise Meurent (1844-1927) was a French painter and a famous model for painters. Although she is now best known as the favorite model of Édouard Manet, she also was an artist in her own right, who exhibited repeatedly at the prestigious Paris Salon. In 1876 her paintings were selected for inclusion at the juried exhibition, when Manet's work was not.
Born into a family of artisans (Victorine's father was a patinator of bronzes, while her mother was a milliner), Meurent started modeling at the age of sixteen in the studio of Thomas Couture. She first worked for Manet in 1862, posing for a painting entitled, The Street Singer. Manet was first drawn to Victorine when he saw her in the street, carrying her guitar. Victorine was particularly noticeable for her petite stature and her red hair, which is depicted as very bright in Manet's watercolour copy of "Olympia". As well as playing the guitar, Victorine also played the violin, gave lessons in the two instruments, and sang in cafe'-concerts. Her name remains forever associated with Manet's masterpieces, The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, which include portraits of her. During this time period she also modelled for Belgian painter Alfred Stevens and Degas, both close friends of Manet. Her relationship with Stevens is said to have been particularly close.
Manet continued to use Victorine Meurent as a model until the early 1870s, when she began taking art classes and they became estranged, as Victorine was drawn to the more academic style of painting against which Manet's work was in opposition . The last painting by Manet in which Meurent appears is, Gare Saint-Lazare, which is often referred to as, The Railway, painted in 1873. The painting is considered the best example of Manet's first use of the modern approach to subject matter.
Three years later, Victorine Meurent first presented work of her own at the 1876 Paris Salon and her work was accepted— ironically, Manet's own submissions were rejected by the jury that year. Bourgeoise de Nuremberg au XVIe siècle, Meurent's entry at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1879, was hung in the same room as the entry by Manet. Work by Meurent also was included in the 1885 and 1904 exhibitions. In all, Victorine Meurent exhibited in the Salon six times. Meurent also continued to support herself by modelling through the 1880s for Norbert Goeneutte, an artist best known for his etchings today, and Toulouse-Lautrec, who was very taken to introducing her as "Olympia".
Meurent was inducted into the Societie des Artistes Francaise in 1903, with the support of Charles Hermann-Leon and Tony Robert-Fleury, the Societie's founder. By 1906, Meurent had left Paris for the suburb of Colombes, where she lived with a woman named Marie Dufour for the remainder of her life. The two appear to have shared ownership of their house. Meurent died on March 17th, 1927. After the death of Dufour, in 1930, the contents of the house were liquidated; in the late 20th C., elderly neighbours recalled the last contents of the house, including a violin and its case, being burnt on a bonfire.
A painting by Meurent was recovered in 2004 and now hangs in the Colombes History Museum.
Meurent in fiction
The Irish writer George Moore included Meurent as a character in his semi-fictional autobiography, Memoirs of My Dead Life. She appears as a middle-aged woman past her prime, living in a lesbian relationship with a famous courtesan. More recently, Victorine Meurent's life has inspired a historical novel, Mademoiselle Victorine by Debra Finerman. She also appears as a character in a film called Manet in Love. Both works involve Meurent as Manet's mistress.