It was a chance encounter that I came coat-to-coat with Edouard Manet’s “Portrait of Isabelle Lemonnier with a Muff.” Sure, my Sunday visit to the Getty Museum was the product of intentionality, specifically to see their latest exhibition, Manet and Modern Beauty. I came across longtime favorites by the French modernist painter (1832-1883) like “Spring” and “Skating.” These are far superior examples of Manet’s talents. Isabelle Lemonnier’s painting is not even that eye-catching to be honest, but I resonated with the meaning behind this masterpiece far more than I could have imagined.
Isabelle, the younger sister-in-law of one of the members of Manet’s creative circle, a prominent publisher at the time by the name of George Charpentier. She caught Manet’s eye while sporting a luxurious fur coat that offset her adolescent winsomeness. Infatuated, Manet portraited her likeness in a way that lacked stillness. Getty curators say that this brushwork that mimicked blurriness, “suggests she is just passing by—a stylish girl on the move. Manet subsequently sent her one flirtatious note after another. It seems she never responded.”
I am Isabelle, a restless spirit in a monochrome black ensemble accented with a camel-colored coat and red lips. Always on the move. The voyager in the pursuit of adventure and immune to the written words of unwanted suitors—granted 21st century well-dressed girls on-the-move may deal with a DM rather than a handwritten note, but you get the idea.
But in these still life photos of me in my puffy-sleeved winter coat (not unlike Isabelle’s outerwear), I am slowing down for a moment (nope, not for a DM!). To behold art. Museums are one of the havens I turn to when I am in need of inspiration or want to escape from everyday qualms.
Now, besides being of an unrequited admirer, I must take a moment to applaud Manet and express why I like his work so much. Manet was a journalist of sorts. He portrayed truth with paintbrush rather than a pen, but still he documented. This 19th-century artist specifically illustrated portraits of fashionable French women with the stroke of pastels and watercolors: gorgeous gowns of flora and fauna and thick winter-wear alike. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to his work: it’s fashion journalism in the form of visual art.