Before enjoying success as a painter, Suzanne Valadon was one of the most valued artist’s models of her time, as had been another young woman before her: Victorine Meurent (1844-1927), whose face and body can be seen several times on the canvases of Edouard Manet, notably in his famous Déjeuner sur l’herbe [The luncheon on the grass] (1862-1863) and Olympia (1863).
Like Suzanne, Victorine turned towards painting, frequently exhibiting at the Salon, but she never enjoyed the success of the former and ended her days in extremely straitened financial conditions - the history of art remembers her only for her role as model.
In this pastel, Norbert Goeneutte (1854-1894) depicts her at around the age of 40, with thickened-out features and faded beauty. This painter and engraver, a fellow traveller of the Impressionists and great admirer of Manet, produced several portraits of Victorine, depicting her as a tired, poor, often drunk woman, old before her time.
Here, the greyness of the paper emphasises the almost virginal whiteness of Victorine’s blouse (as she poses) against the maturity of her face.
The Musée de Vernon thus has the opportunity to display, almost side-by-side, two women who featured greatly in French painting at the end of the 19th century and who chose to leave the status of model behind, and raise themselves to the level of their masters.