Johannes Vermeer, c. 1669–70 ,Oil on canvas, 24.5 cm × 21 cm (9.6 in × 8.3 in), Louvre, Paris
Artist Christopher Benson and I were comparing notes about Manet and he mentioned seeing Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker” in Manet’s portrait of his parents that is in the Musee d’Orsay. Having read Jack Flam’s article in Artnews about the great monograph on Vermeer published in the 1870s and its influence on Manet, I was surprised that Flam didn’t mention this connection. This painting was painted too early to have been influenced by the monograph, but “The Lacemaker” is in the Louvre, where Manet undoubtedly studied it. And it would also indicate Manet’s interest in Vermeer.
Edouard Manet, M and Mme Auguste Manet, The Painter’s Parents, circa 1860s
What Christopher was seeing was the similarity in the handling of the yarn in the basket of Manet’s mother and Vermeer’s Lacemaker. I had never noticed this connection, but the minute you examine the details, it seems obvious.
Vermeer, “The Lacemaker” detail
Manet, “Portrait of his Parents”, detail
In Vermeer’s piece the use of a camera obscura influenced the in and out of focus quality of his work. While Manet was painting, photography was certainly in use, and was, in fact, used by several of the Impressionists, most notably by Degas. There is no evidence that I am aware of that Manet resorted to such devices. Here it seems more likely that he is “quoting” the handling in Vermeer. The composition doesn’t seem to refer to Vermeer, although of all the Vermeer’s, it is his religious painting “In the House of Mary and Martha” that seems most like the Manet.
Vermeer, “In the House of Mary and Martha”
Christopher and I both enjoy searching for what I call “artist DNA”, the lines of influence that not only go from one artist to another, but between works of art that are at times separated by centuries.
Christopher Benson will be having a retrospective at Cushing Memorial Building on the museum grounds at 76 Bellevue Ave. in Newport, Rhode Island. The show runs from September 29th. I am sure that you will find plenty of “artist DNA” in his work!
Christopher Benson, “Tiverton Interior”
Books of Interest:
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Manet, “The Luncheon, 1868
In a recent article in ARTnews, Jack Flam analyzed Manet’s, “The Luncheon” in the light of knowing that Manet painted this soon after an important monograph had been printed about the Dutch artist Johann Vermeer.
“The Luncheon” has always been considered enigmatic. What is known about the picture is that the boy front and center is Leon Leenhoff. But the clarity stops there. To begin with, who is Leon Leenhoff?
After the death of his father in 1862, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff in 1863. Leenhoff was a Dutch-born piano teacher of Manet’s age with whom he had been romantically involved for approximately ten years. Leenhoff initially had been employed by Manet’s father, Auguste, to teach Manet and his younger brother piano. She also may have been Auguste’s mistress. In 1852, Leenhoff gave birth, out of wedlock, to a son, Leon Koella Leenhoff.
It is about this time that Manet had taken up with Suzanne. Could it be that he did so to hide the real paternity of Leon? That of his father? Could this have saved the family from scandal in some way? It is interesting to note that he did not marry Suzanne until after his father died. Exactly when did his father’s affair with Suzanne end? Before or after Manet took up with her?
Manet never claimed paternity of Leon. In fact, Suzanne was required for many years to pass him off as her brother. Yet it is far more likely that Leon was Manet’s half brother.
So what do we have in this painting? Leon in the middle in a summer costume and a boater hat. Behind him on either side are a man and a maid. Behind them is a map reminiscent of those in the background of Vermeer.
Vermeer, “The Art of Painting”
On the table we see what I had always presumed was lunch, but on closer examination, is more likely to be a still life.
The knife and partially peeled lemon appear in many of Manet’s still lifes, as well as in a portrait of Leon.
Manet, “Still Life with Salmon”
Manet, “Still Life with Brioche and Lemon”, 1873
Manet, “Fish and Oysters”, 1864
Manet, “Portrait of Leon Leenhoff”
On the chair, we have other accouterments of the studio — a helmet and sword, for example. Leon posed with the sword in an earlier painting.
While Manet’s knowledge of Vermeer is not widely acknowledged, his deep and sustained involvement with the work of Valesquez is well documented. Could we be looking at another “Las Meninas”?
Valesques, “Las Meninas”
Is Leon, in fact, looking at the artist, Manet, at work as the artist regards him and the two people behind him? And might these two people be standing in for Leon’s real parents — Suzanne as the maid (as she was the piano teacher) and Manet’s father as the man. The man reaches behind Leon toward the maid.
In the center of the painting is a silver pitcher held up by the maid. Could the pitcher serve the same purpose the mirror does in “Las Meninas”? I looked at it under a magnifier to see if I could see the artist reflected in the surface. While I didn’t find that, I found what looked like a broken heart and, not a portrait of Manet, but evidence of him in the form of an “M” a signature not unlike Vermeer’s “V”.
In this configuration we have the absent artist (as he does not appear in the painting), holding center stage and the focal point of all in the painting, with the exception of the man, who looks at the maid. A deft family portrait, if ever there was one. And one where the artist assumes the position of the King.
I’ll admit it, if there were a Page 6 in the 19th Century, I’d be writing it. Having spent years trying to determine the date and circumstances of the commencement of the affair between Claude Monet and the wife of his patron Ernest Hoschede, I have spent more than my share of time digging dirt. It is inevitable that I would come across “dirt” on other artists, or at least rather interesting circumstantial evidence.
That Monet’s friend Manet, had more than a passing interest in Berthe Morisot is common knowledge. In a previous post [Manet’s Secret Love] I talked about what evidence of their relationship could be determined from his choice of flowers depicted with her. Recently I discovered that he may have left more clues for us.
Evidently in the 19th Century the equivalent of text messaging was accomplished with the flick of a fan. Just as we know the meaning of OMG and WTF, in Monet’s day a full array of messages could be read in the position of a fan, whether it was open, closed, held to the lips, or held to the heart.
Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872
When you extract the paintings Manet did of Morisot, three out of eleven have fans in them. And if you include the tribute to her in the small painting of violets and a letter, it is four paintings. He shows her holding a closed fan in his masterpiece, “The Balcony”, covering her face; and resting casually next to her.
In one painting he shows Morisot touching the ribs of the fan. This was sometimes used as a means to indicate when a meeting between two lovers might be safe.
By contrast, Manet never painted his wife with a fan. For her, he reserved a whole other set of symbols.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE FAN
1) THE FAN PLACED NEAR THE HEART:”You have won my love.”
2) A CLOSED FAN TOUCHING THE RIGHT EYE: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
3) THE NUMBER OF STICKS SHOWN ANSWERED THE QUESTION: At what hour?”
4) THREATENING MOVEMENTS WITH A FAN CLOSED: Do not be so imprudent”
5) HALF-OPENED FAN PRESSED TO THE LIPS: “You may kiss me.”
6) HANDS CLASPED TOGETHER HOLDING AN OPEN FAN: “Forgive me.”
7) COVERING THE LEFT EAR WITH AN OPEN FAN: “Do not betray our secret.”
8) HIDING THE EYES BEHIND AN OPEN FAN: “I love you.”
9) SHUTTING A FULLY OPENED FAN SLOWLY: “I promise to marry you.”
10) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE EYES: “I am sorry.”
11) TOUCHING THE FINGER TO THE TIP OF THE FAN: “I wish to speak with you.”
12) LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE RIGHT CHEEK: “Yes.”
13) LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE LEFT CHEEK: “No.”
14) OPENING AND CLOSING THE FAN SEVERAL TIMES: “You are cruel”
15) DROPPING THE FAN: “We will be friends.”
16) FANNING SLOWLY:”I am married.”
17) FANNING QUICKLY:”I am engaged.”
18) PUTTING THE FAN HANDLE TO THE LIPS: “Kiss me.”
19) OPENING A FAN WIDE: “Wait for me.”
20) PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD: “Do not forget me”
21) PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD WITH FINGER EXTENDED: “Goodbye.”
22) FAN IN RIGHT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: Follow me.”
23) FAN IN LEFT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: “I am desirous of your acquaintance.”
24) FAN HELD OVER LEFT EAR: “I wish to get rid of you.”
25) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE FOREHEAD:”You have changed.”
26) TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “We are being watched.”
27) TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND:”I love another.”
28) CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND:”You are too willing.”
29) CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “Come and talk to me.”
30) DRAWING THE FAN THROUGH THE HAND: “I hate you!”
31) DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE CHEEK: “I love you!”
32) PRESENTING THE FAN SHUT: “Do you love me?”
Some Books of Interest:
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Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
Last fall Lydia Davis, the short story writer, translator and MacArthur Fellow, gave a reading for the Curiosity Forum at Battenkill Books. Davis is known for her spare stories, some not more than a sentence. To make the reading interesting for herself, she brought new unpublished stories. Among them, she explained, were stories that she had “found” while reading Flaubert’s letters. As a translator of Madame Bovary, she read Flaubert’s letters to find his natural voice; the way he sounded when addressing friends. From these letters she extracted sentences that appeared to her to be complete stories.
Having spent much of the last ten years in my own excavation of all things French, I thought Davis might be able to identify for me the name of a story by Baudelaire that I had read about, but had not been able to find. The story, as I understood it, was about the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Edouard Manet’s studio assistant. I asked her if she had ever heard of the story.
She hadn’t, but she promised me she would ask a colleague and let me know what she found out. Well, you can’t ask for more than that: a MacArthur Fellow and distinguished writer doing research for me!
To be honest I didn’t expect to hear from her, but within a day I received an email that said, “Its not a short story, its a prose poem.” No sooner had I opened a new tab to type “Baudelaire prose poems” into Google, than I received another email from her with the title of the piece: La Corde [The Rope]. The story, dedicated to Manet, in deed is about the suicide of a painter’s assistant.
Here is the “prose poem” in its entirety, first in English, then followed by the original French:
For Edouard Manet
“Illusions,” my friend said to me, “Are perhaps as numberless as the relations between men, or between men and things. And when the illusion disappears, that is to say, when we see the being or the fact as it exists outside of ourselves, we experience a bizarre feeling, complicated half by regret for the disappeared phantom, half by agreeable surprise in the face of novelty, in the fact of the real thing. If there is one obvious, trivial phenomenon, a phenomenon the remains always the same and about whose nature it is impossible to be mistaken, it is mother love. It is as difficult to imagine a mother without maternal love as a light without heat. Then isn’t it perfectly legitimate to attribute all of the words and actions of a mother to mother love, at least as regards her child? And yet, listen to this little story, about a time when I was singularly mystified by the most natural of illusions.
“As a painter, I am driven to pay close attention to the faces, the physiognomies, that offer themselves to me on the street, and you know what enjoyment we draw from that ability, which in our eyes renders life more alive and more meaningful than it is for other men. In the remote quarter where I live and where vast grassy yards still separate buildings, I often saw a child whose ardent and mischievous physiognomy, more so than all the others, seduced me from the very first. He posed more than once for me, and I transformed him sometimes into a little gypsy, sometimes into an angel, sometimes into a mythological Cupid. I had him hold the vagrant’s violin, the Crown of Thorns, the Nails of the Passion, and the Torch of Eros. Indeed, I took such a sharp pleasure in all of this urchin’s drollery, that one day I begged his parents, who were poor people, to agree to give him to me, promising to dress him well, to give him some money, and to impose no other labor on him than cleaning my brushes and running errands for me. Once cleaned up, the boy proved charming, and the life he led with me seemed to him a paradise, compared to what he would have been subjected to in his father’s hovel. However I must say that this little fellow sometimes astonished me with singular outbursts of precocious sadness, and that he sometimes demonstrated an immoderate taste for sugar and for liqueurs, so much so that one day, after I had ascertained that, despite numerous warnings, he had again committed a theft of this sort, I threatened to send him back to his parents. Then I went out, and my business kept me from home for quite a while.
“You can well imagine my horror and astonishment when, returning to my house, the first thing that struck me was my little fellow, the mischievous companion of my life, hanging from the panel of this armoire! He feet were almost touching the floor; a chair, which he had undoubtedly pushed away with his foot, was overturned next to him; his head lean convulsively on one shoulder; his swollen face and his eyes, wide open and staring with a frightening fixity, at first gave me the illusion that he was still alive. Unhanging him was not as easy a task as one might think. He was already very stiff, and I felt an inexpicable repugnance about letting him fall abruptly onto the floor. I had to hold him up with one arm and with my other hand cut the rope. But that done, I was still not finished: the little monster had used a very cord and it had cut deeply into his skin. It was now necessary for me to use small scissors to draw the rope out from between two swollen rolls of skin, in order to extricate his neck.
“I forgot to tell you that I had called loudly for help, but that all of my neighbors refused to come to my aid, faithful in this to the habits of the civilized man, who never wishes to get mixed up in the affairs of a hanged man, I know not why. Finally, a doctor came and declared that the child had been dead for several hours. When we later had to strip him for his burial, the rigidity of the corpse was so great that, giving up any hope of bending his limbs, we had to tear and cut his clothes in order to get them off.
The police officer to whom, naturally, I had to declare the accident, looked at me oddly and said: “There’s something fishy about this!”, moved undoubtedly by the inveterate desire and the professional habit of, in all events, scaring the innocent as well as the guilty.
“One final task remained, the very thought of which caused me a terrible anguish: I had to tell his parents. My feet refused to carry me to their house. Finally, I found the courage. But, to my great astonishment, the boy’s mother remained unmoved, and not a tear leaked from the corner of her eye. I attributed that strangeness to the very horror she must have been feeling, and I recalled that well-known adage: “The most terrible sorrows are silent sorrows.” As for the father, he satisfied himself with saying, half brutishly, half dreamily: “After all, maybe it’s for the best — he would eventually have come to a bad end!”
While the body was stretched out on my sofa and I was occupied with the final preparations, aided by a serving woman, the boy’s mother came into my studio. She wanted, she said, to see the corpse of her son. I could not, in truth, stop her from getting drunk on her misfortune and refuse her this final, somber consolation. Afterwards, she asked me to show her the place where her son had hung himself. “Oh! No! Madame,” I said, “That would not be good for you.” As my eyes turned involuntarily toward the deadly armoire, I noticed — with a disgust mixed with horror and anger — that the nail was still stuck in the panel, with a long piece of rope still trailing from it. I quickly darted over and tore down these last vestiges of the misfortune, and as I was about to throw them out of the open window, the poor woman seized my arm and said to me in an irresistable voice: “Oh! Monsieur! Let me have that! Please! I beg you” Undoubtedly, it seemed to me, her despair had driven her so mad that she was now struck with a fondness for that which had served as the instrument of her son’s death, and wished to keep it as a terrible and beloved relic. — And she grabbed the nail and the rope.
“Finally! Finally! Everything was done. Nothing was left to me but to get back to work, more briskly than usual, in order to chase away little by little the tiny cadaver that continued to haunt the corners of my mind, and whose phantom was wearing me out with its great, staring eyes. But the next day I received a whole pile of letters, some from the tenants in my building, several others from neighboring buildings; one from the first floor, another from the second, another from the third, and so on; some written in a half-joking tone, as if to disguise under an apparent playfulness the seriousness of the request, others completely shameless and filled with misspellings, but all asking for the same thing: that is to say, seeking to obtain from me a piece of the deadly and blessed rope. Among the signers there were, I must say, more women than men, but not all of them, believe you me, belonging to the lowest and most vulgar class. I have kept these letters.
“And then, suddenly, a light went on in my head, and I understood why the boy’s mother had been so concerned with taking that cord away from me and through what sort of commerce she planned to console herself for her loss.”
[Scroll to end of post for books of interest and other information.]
À Édouard Manet
«Les illusions, — me disait mon ami, — sont aussi innombrables peut-être que les rapports des hommes entre eux, ou des hommes avec les choses. Et quand l’illusion disparaît, c’est-à-dire quand nous voyons l’être ou le fait tel qu’il existe en dehors de nous, nous éprouvons un bizarre sentiment, compliqué moitié de regret pour le fantôme disparu, moitié de surprise agréable devant la nouveauté, devant le fait réel. S’il existe un phénomène évident, trivial, toujours semblable, et d’une nature à laquelle il soit impossible de se tromper, c’est l’amour maternel. Il est aussi difficile de supposer une mère sans amour maternel qu’une lumière sans chaleur; n’est-il donc pas parfaitement légitime d’attribuer à l’amour maternel toutes les actions et les paroles d’une mère, relatives à son enfant? Et cependant écoutez cette petite histoire, où j’ai été singulièrement mystifié par l’illusion la plus naturelle.
«Ma profession de peintre me pousse à regarder attentivement les visages, les physionomies, qui s’offrent dans ma route, et vous savez quelle jouissance nous tirons de cette faculté qui rend à nos yeux la vie plus vivante et plus significative que pour les autres hommes. Dans le quartier reculé que j’habite et où de vastes espaces gazonnés séparent encore les bâtiments, j’observai souvent un enfant dont la physionomie ardente et espiègle, plus que toutes les autres, me séduisit tout d’abord. Il a posé plus d’une fois pour moi, et je l’ai transformé tantôt en petit bohémien, tantôt en ange, tantôt en Amour mythologique. Je lui ai fait porter le violon du vagabond, la Couronne d’Épines et les Clous de la Passion, et la Torche d’Éros. Je pris enfin à toute la drôlerie de ce gamin un plaisir si vif, que je priai un jour ses parents, de pauvres gens, de vouloir bien me le céder, promettant de bien l’habiller, de lui donner quelque argent et de ne pas lui imposer d’autre peine que de nettoyer mes pinceaux et de faire mes commissions. Cet enfant, débarbouillé, devint charmant, et la vie qu’il menait chez moi lui semblait un paradis, comparativement à celle qu’il aurait subie dans le taudis paternel. Seulement je dois dire que ce petit bonhomme m’étonna quelquefois par des crises singulières de tristesse précoce, et qu’il manifesta bientôt un goût immodéré pour le sucre et les liqueurs; si bien qu’un jour où je constatai que, malgré mes nombreux avertissements, il avait encore commis un nouveau larcin de ce genre, je le menaçai de le renvoyer à ses parents. Puis je sortis, et mes affaires me retinrent assez longtemps hors de chez moi.
«Quels ne furent pas mon horreur et mon étonnement quand, rentrant à la maison, le premier objet qui frappa mes regards fut mon petit bonhomme, l’espiègle compagnon de ma vie, pendu au panneau de cette armoire! Ses pieds touchaient presque le plancher; une chaise, qu’il avait sans doute repoussée du pied, était renversée à côté de lui; sa tête était penchée convulsivement sur une épaule; son visage, boursouflé, et ses yeux, tout grands ouverts avec une fixité effrayante, me causèrent d’abord l’illusion de la vie. Le dépendre n’était pas une besogne aussi facile que vous le pouvez croire. Il était déjà fort roide, et j’avais une répugnance inexplicable à le faire brusquement tomber sur le sol. Il fallait le soutenir tout entier avec un bras, et, avec la main de l’autre bras, couper la corde. Mais cela fait, tout n’était pas fini; le petit monstre s’était servi d’une ficelle fort mince qui était entrée profondément dans les chairs, et il fallait maintenant, avec de minces ciseaux, chercher la corde entre les deux bourrelets de l’enflure, pour lui dégager le cou.
«J’ai négligé de vous dire que j’avais vivement appelé au secours; mais tous mes voisins avaient refusé de me venir en aide, fidèles en cela aux habitudes de l’homme civilisé, qui ne veut jamais, je ne sais pourquoi, se mêler des affaires d’un pendu. Enfin vint un médecin qui déclara que l’enfant était mort depuis plusieurs heures. Quand, plus tard, nous eûmes à le déshabiller pour l’ensevelissement, la rigidité cadavérique était telle, que, désespérant de fléchir les membres, nous dûmes lacérer et couper les vêtements pour les lui enlever.
«Le commissaire, à qui, naturellement, je dus déclarer l’accident, me regarda de travers, et me dit: «Voilà qui est louche!» mû sans doute par un désir invétéré et une habitude d’état de faire peur, à tout hasard, aux innocents comme aux coupables.
«Restait une tâche suprême à accomplir, dont la seule pensée me causait une angoisse terrible: il fallait avertir les parents. Mes pieds refusaient de m’y conduire. Enfin j’eus ce courage. Mais, à mon grand étonnement, la mère fut impassible, pas une larme ne suinta du coin de son ?il. J’attribuai cette étrangeté à l’horreur même qu’elle devait éprouver, et je me souvins de la sentence connue: «Les douleurs les plus terribles sont les douleurs muettes.» Quant au père, il se contenta de dire d’un air moitié abruti, moitié rêveur: «Après tout, cela vaut peut-être mieux ainsi; il aurait toujours mal fini!»
«Cependant le corps était étendu sur mon divan, et, assisté d’une servante, je m’occupais des derniers préparatifs, quand la mère entra dans mon atelier. Elle voulait, disait-elle, voir le cadavre de son fils. Je ne pouvais pas, en vérité, l’empêcher de s’enivrer de son malheur et lui refuser cette suprême et sombre consolation. Ensuite elle me pria de lui montrer l’endroit où son petit s’était pendu. «Oh! non! madame, — lui répondis-je, — cela vous ferait mal.» Et comme involontairement mes yeux se tournaient vers la funèbre armoire, je m’aperçus, avec un dégoût mêlé d’horreur et de colère, que le clou était resté fiché dans la paroi, avec un long bout de corde qui traînait encore. Je m’élançai vivement pour arracher ces derniers vestiges du malheur, et comme j’allais les lancer au dehors par la fenêtre ouverte, la pauvre femme saisit mon bras et me dit d’une voix irrésistible: «Oh! monsieur! laissez-moi cela! je vous en prie! je vous en supplie!» Son désespoir l’avait, sans doute, me parut-il, tellement affolée, qu’elle s’éprenait de tendresse maintenant pour ce qui avait servi d’instrument à la mort de son fils, et le voulait garder comme une horrible et chère relique. — Et elle s’empara du clou et de la ficelle.
«Enfin! Enfin! tout était accompli. Il ne me restait plus qu’à me remettre au travail, plus vivement encore que d’habitude, pour chasser peu à peu ce petit cadavre qui hantait les replis de mon cerveau, et dont le fantôme me fatiguait de ses grands yeux fixes. Mais le lendemain je reçus un paquet de lettres: les unes, des locataires de ma maison, quelques autres des maisons voisines; l’une, du premier étage; l’autre, du second; l’autre, du troisième, et ainsi de suite, les unes en style demi-plaisant, comme cherchant à déguiser sous un apparent badinage la sincérité de la demande; les autres, lourdement effrontées et sans orthographe, mais toutes tendant au même but, c’est-à-dire à obtenir de moi un morceau de la funeste et béatifique corde. Parmi les signataires il y avait, je dois le dire, plus de femmes que d’hommes; mais tous, croyez-le bien, n’appartenaient pas à la classe infime et vulgaire. J’ai gardé ces lettres.
«Et alors, soudainement, une lueur se fit dans mon cerveau, et je compris pourquoi la mère tenait tant à m’arracher la ficelle et par quel commerce elle entendait se consoler.»
Lydia Davis on the right
Here is a wonderful article in the Paris Review about Lydia Davis and her translation of Madam Bovary: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2010/10/04/the-sins-of-a-translator/
Books of Interest:
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
Edouard Manet, “The Bunch of Violets”, 1872
Manet gave this small painting to Berthe Morisot. It contains a letter, the fan she held in his famous painting, “The Balcony”, and a bunch of violets.
Edouard Manet, “The Balcony”, 1868-69
There has always been speculation about the relationship between Manet and Morisot. Manet, of course, was married to Suzanne Leenhoff, his former piano tutor. The circumstances of that marriage are also clouded. It is now believed that she was actually the mistress of Manet’s father, and when she became pregnant, Manet married her to spare the family embarrassment. Leenhoff’s son was at times passed off as her brother (ironic, when he may have, in fact, been Manet’s half-brother). He always referred to Manet as “godfather” and not “father”. Manet never admitted paternity.
There is no mistaking for whom the painting of violets was intended, as both Morisot’s and Manet’s names appear on the letter in the painting. Ah, but what about the violets?
Edouard Manet, “Berthe Morisot with a Bunch of Violets”, 1872
Violet’s are a flower with which Morisot was identified. Here she wears a violet corsage. But the violets have another meaning. In 1818 Madam Charlotte de la Tour wrote Le Langage des Fleurs, the language of flowers. In it, a meaning was assigned to every flower. Each bouquet carried a very specific message. They could indicate everything from the time of a secret assignation to the intricacies of one’s emotions.
A couple of years ago I made a trip to Tourette, France, which is known for violets the way Grasse is known for lavender. In the tourist office in one of their brochures I read that the meaning of violets in Le Langage des Fleurs is “a secret love”.