Manet paints a Griffon in The Lady with Fans
"The latest fashion … is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most."
—Édouard Manet, 1881
I was lucky to have caught the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibit this spring at the Met the day before it closed. Not only did I get to see one of the best fashion exhibits since the McQueen show, I discovered a new Griffon painted by Manet in a painting that was lent to the show by the Musee De Orsay for the show.
Finding the Griffon in the painting is kind of like Where’s Waldo, but I promise that there is indeed a Griffon in the painting.
Manet drew to a close a long series of “women on a sofa” with this picture from 1873. His model is Nina de Callias (1844-1884), a capricious woman, alternately elated and depressed, with a neurotic temperament that alcohol soon led her to insanity and a premature death at the age of thirty-nine. Although her real name was Marie-Anne Gaillard, and she was also called Nina de Villard, she was known paradoxically by the name of a very transitory husband, Hector de Callias, a writer and journalist for the Figaro.
At the time of this portrait, Nina was barely thirty years old, and used to host one of the most brilliant and artistic salons in Paris. She poses in one of the “Algerian” costumes that she liked to wear to receive guests. The wall decoration in the background is recognisable one in the painter’s studio; it also appears in Mallarmé (Musée d’Orsay) and in Nana(Hamburg, Kuntshalle). The choice of fans does not seem to have any symbolic intention. By pinning them up around Nina, Manet is merely creating a décor that had become almost commonplace: Whistler, Tissot and Renoir had already used the same technique. Besides, these objects evoke the Japanese-style bric-à-brac of the small private residence where the model lived.
Should we see in this painting an echo of Olympiapainted ten years earlier? Probably not. Although both figures are lying down, leaning on one arm, with an animal at their feet (a small griffon terrier in this case), they have nothing in common, not in style, technique or mood. The face in particular is one of the most expressive that Manet produced. It conveys amusement, complicity and curiosity, with a hint of melancholy and distraction.
Edouard Manet (1832-1883)