Charles Baudelaire, the extraordinary poet who trod the path between Romanticism and Symbolism, met the mulatto actress Jeanne Duval in 1842. "Sorceress with the ebony thighs, child of black midnights," he apostrophized her in one of his finest poems. Their liaison lasted a good ten years, but Baudelaire continued to support Duval, who was paralysed in one leg. Manet painted this "Black Venus" in 1862, at the peak of his career as a painter. The composition of the picture is not linked to prototypes, and Manet designed it masterfully. The canvas is dominated by the enormous crinoline, striped white on white, which seems to have a life of its own. The right hand resting on the curved sofa is counterpoised by the foot peeping out from under the skirt, whose emphatic positioning may refer to the tragic illness. The enchanting lace curtain in the background appears as though an arched proscenium around the haggard face of the fated, sick actress.
Curator Simon Meller pointed out already in his proposal for the painting's acquisition that this work of unique beauty came close in terms of colouring to some Spanish old masters. At the same time the sketchy brushwork of this recently restored work, and its buoyant energy reflect the new style Manet adopted afterwards his Spanish period.

Judit Geskó


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