It can be said with confidence that a successful female artist before the nineteenth century is quite the rare bird. In the late nineteenth century, the world of art was finally opening up to women. Before then, women were not admitted into art academies or allowed to even view male nude models.
In the days of Impressionism, the Parisian artistic movement characterized by scenes of contemporary life carried out in a style of heavy brushstrokes and the focus on color and the effects of light, there are many prominent male artists to be named. Respect can be paid to Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Edouard Manet, and female artists such as Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassat, and the subject of this essay, Eva Gonzales.
Gonzales produced many feminized paintings, giving historians a different perspective of everyday life in Paris in the mid-to-late eighteen hundreds.
Born in 1849, Gonzales began her formal training under the portraitist Charles Chaplin and eventually became Edouard Manet’s only pupil in 1869. At age twenty, it can be seen in her work that Manet greatly influenced her. Her painting “Une loge aux Italiens” (1874) is very similar looking to Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882); both pieces including a very melancholic looking young woman at the side of a presentable gentleman. Both women are staring out intently at the viewer, beckoning for one to join them. Manet even used Gonzales as the subject of his paintings on occasion.
She did have her own distinct style and created wonderfully feminine pieces, such as “Le Chignon,” (1865) or, “The Bun.” Featuring only the back of a woman’s bare neck, her golden brown hair is twisted up in a tight bun that follows the fluid contours of her neck, spine, and bare shoulders.
Although Gonzales is considered an Impressionist painter (for her style only — she never exhibited in the controversial Impressionist salons), from a distance her brush strokes come together like the pigments of real skin, making the viewer want to reach out and touch the soft looking subject. Since the view is from the back, the woman is faceless and completely anonymous, giving the painting an air of mystery and melancholy, but is nonetheless beautiful.
Although little is really known about Gonzales, that is not to say she was without talent; she is definitely a celebrity among female artists, but unfortunately not as well known as her fellow male Impressionists. She possessed just as much creativity and observational power, and her work can be compared to the likes of Edgar Degas, who is most well known for his series of ballerinas. Gonzales herself delicately painted a pair of light pink ballet slippers, known as “The White Shoes,” (1879) which are almost a female, upper class counterpart to Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Boots.” (1883)
Gonzales went on to marry. She completed over eighty works throughout her lifetime, which sadly ended when she was thirty four, in 1883, dying in childbirth. She passed less than a week after her teacher, Manet, both of them leaving the art world with countless pieces of timeless art, and an impression on their viewers.