A New Look at Manet's 'La Toilette'

Discover Edouard Manet's experimentations in etching through his drawing and print renditions of La Toilette.

La Toilette (Circa 1862) by Édouard ManetThe Courtauld Institute of Art

Edouard Manet was one of the main figures in the revival of etching in mid-nineteenth century Paris. As an astute student of the history of art, he admired the work and etchings of Rembrandt.

La Toilette (Circa 1860) by Édouard ManetThe Courtauld Institute of Art

Manet's preliminary drawing made in preparation for etching gave him considerable freedom to experiment with the composition before he transferred it to the plate.  

Manet's decision to render the drawing in red chalk was unusual. While red chalk had been a popular drawing medium during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, it had lost its popularity by the mid-nineteenth century.

The upper left hand corner shows traces of initial ideas, where Manet experimented with the figure's positions behind the bather.

Here we also see visible needle marks outlining the female bather. These marks suggest that this drawing might have been used to transfer the image for etching.

La Toilette, Édouard Manet, Circa 1860, From the collection of: The Courtauld Institute of Art
La Toilette, Édouard Manet, Circa 1862, From the collection of: The Courtauld Institute of Art
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Both figures are mirror images of each other, reversed as part of the printing process.

The printmaker, in this case Manet, gently and quickly hatches away parts of the metal sheet, exposing its acid-resistant varnish or wax base. Once the etched design is finished, acid is applied to 'eat' into the exposed metal creating grooves that can retain ink. Ink and some sort of pressure is then applied to print the image from the metal onto a new surface.

La Toilette (Circa 1862) by Édouard ManetThe Courtauld Institute of Art

Manet’s exceptionally bold etching technique and his emphatic contrasts of light and shade have a startling effect.

Large areas of black mark making show skillfulness in Manet's manipulation of etching.

Wiped clean of ink, the light female form appears to loom out from the dark background, formed by a web of cross-hatched lines deeply ‘bitten’ by the acid.

He displays great freedom in his penwork as he was able to draw very quickly, seen by the hatching on the woman’s legs.

Manet’s model for the print was most probably his companion Suzanne Leenhoff.

The subject of La Toilette is derived from Rembrandt's Susanna and the Elders.

Manet removed this from its biblical context, the story of Bathsheba, and presented it as a female bather surprised, half-dressed, with her maidservant in the background.

Unlike Rembrandt’s paintings of female bathers, Manet has chosen in both the drawing and the print for the surprised bather to look directly out at the viewer, confronting them. 

This makes Manet's work thoroughly Modern as Rembrandt would portray women averting their gazes. 

Credits: Story

Explore more of The Courtauld's collection.

Édouard Manet (1832-1883), La Toilette, 1860, red chalk on laid paper, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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