Impressionism – Eva Gonzalés

Eva Gonzalés, White Shoes, 1879-80
Eva Gonzalés, White Shoes, 1879-80

Eva Gonzalès was the daughter of a Spanish writer and a Belgian musician. She was just 17 when she joined Charles Chaplin’s studio in Paris as a pupil in 1866,  but within three years she became Edouárd Manet’s only formal pupil.

Although Gonzalès is classified as an Impressionist artist, she, like Manet, didn’t participate in any of  their group exhibitions. Instead, with Manet’s encouragement she preferred  to show at the Paris Salon, exhibiting there between 1870 and 1882-3, and at the Salon de Refusés in 1873.

Unfortunately, at her debut showing in 1870, where she exhibited three paintings, her work was overshadowed by Manet’s own submission of a portrait of Gonzalés as a dark haired fashionable model. As a result, she wasn’t considered by the critics to be a serious artist in her own right.

Her major submission was the life-sized Little Soldier, which was an unmistakable reference to Manet’s Fife Player of 1866. However, in her painting Gonzalés transformed the figure of a small boy into a three-dimensional figure with a slightly turned pose, softer focus and extended shadows, unlike Manet’s more flattened two-dimensional painting. She continued to work in the realistic style of Manet’s earlier Spanish period and began to have some success.

In the early 1870s she painted a number of Impressionist plein air landscape studies using the ‘bird’s eye’ viewpoint, flattened perspective and sunlit palette which Monet characterised in his views of Sainte-Adresse during the ’60s.

In her later works she frequently portrayed women (in particular her sister Jeanne, also an accomplished artist) and domestic scenes. Her pastels, for which she is most well known, have a light and delicate touch. Her small pastel domestic scene The Nest which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1873 met with acclaim, but the reviews refer to her ‘feminine technique’. In contrast, her other submission that year was a large realist painting Loge at the Theatre des Italians. This painting was rejected by the critics for its ‘masculine vigour’ because of the strong brushwork and allusion to erotic symbolism through the inclusion of a sumptuous bouquet of flowers.

By the late 1870s her assured pastel portraits demonstrated that she had found her true style, which can be compared with Degas and other Impressionists.

Overall, her life’s work was small (the catalogue raisonné of her works lists a total of 124 works) as she died within days of giving birth in 1883.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program

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