The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus: An Impressionist Masterpiece

This striking portrait is a study for one of the great icons of Impressionism Le Balcon, (1868Ė9) now in the Musée d'rsay, Paris. The subject is Fanny Claus, a famous violinist who was a close friend of the artistís wife.

Initially inspired by the sight of people on a balcony, during a summer spent in Boulogne-sur-Mer with his family in 1868, Le Balcon famously draws on Goyaís Majas on a Balcony painted around 1810. It is also an important example of Manetís work from the late 1860s onwards when he began to focus his attention on his family and close friends. The portraitís subject is Fanny Claus (1846Ė77), the closest friend of Manetís wife Suzanne Leenhoff. A concert violinist and member of the first all-women string quartet, Fanny was one of Manetís favourite sitters and a member of a close-knit group of friends who also provided the artist with models. She married the artist Pierre Prins (1838Ė1913), another friend of Manetís, in 1869, but died of tuberculosis just eight years later at the age of 30.

The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus was bought in 1884 by the American artist John Singer Sargent. It has remained in his family ever since and is now one of the few major works by Manet left in private hands. As a rare example of the working methods of one of the greatest artists of the 19th century this painting is one of the most important Impressionist paintings in the country.

Manetís Legacy

During Edouard Manetís lifetime (1832-1883) his work was reviled by most critics in England and France. He was controversial and his art shocked the public. However, he was greatly admired by the most advanced artists in both countries. John Singer Sargent, was described as a disciple of Manet, and without his example, Sargentís portraits would have been very different. From the 1880s until World War I, most progressive portrait painters were strongly influenced by Manet's work: Wilson Steer, Walter Sickert, Henry Tonks, Sir John Lavery, Sir William Orpen. Roger Fry's exhibition of 'Manet and the Post-Impressionists' (1911) firmly established Manet's reputation as the painter of modern life. Fry emphasised the purely pictorial qualities of Manet's art, but the social and psychological aspects were equally important to later artists such as Stanley Spencer and Lucian Freud.

As Manetís reputation grew rapidly in the 20th century, his best works were acquired by major museums. There are now remarkably few Manets in private collections, almost all in France, and there are only a handful of important pictures by Manet in the United Kingdom Ė in the National Gallery and the Courtauld Institute in London, as well as other works in Cardiff, Birmingham, and Glasgow.

Manet, Mademoiselle Claus and the Ashmolean

The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus would completely transform the Ashmoleanís Impressionist collections and perfectly complement them, making the Museum a world-leading centre for the study of Impressionist and post Impressionist art.

It would join a small landscape and two unfinished oil paintings, as well as a major watercolour of one of his most famous (and at the time scandalous) works, Le Déjeuner sur LíHerbe. In addition, the Ashmolean has important works by most of Manetís Impressionist contemporaries, including Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Ė a particular strength for the colllection Ė Camille Pissarro. The museum is also home to the UKís largest holdings of Impressionist works on paper.

A Garden Urn

Landscape with a Village Church

A Basket of Pears

Le Déjuner sur L'Herbe

If acquired by the Ashmolean the Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus will be shown at a number of museums in the UK in a special exhibition. The Ashmolean is also planning a full programme of educational activities, family workshops, and pubilc events inspired by the painting. Having previously been exhibited only once since it was painted, this will be a great revelation both to the public and to Manet scholars. As a first sketch, the portrait has a spontaneous quality and a vibrant palette less evident in Le Balcon which was reworked a number of times by the artist as he refined the composition in his studio.

Mademoiselle Claus reveals fascinating new information about the working methods of Edouard Manet, one of the greatest masters of modern art.