Eunice Lipton was a fledging art historian when she first became intrigued by Victorine Meurent, the nineteenth-century model who appeared in Edouard Manet’s most famous paintings, only to vanish from history in a haze of degrading hearsay. But had this bold and spirited beauty really descended into prostitution, drunkenness, and early death-or did her life, hidden from history, take a different course altogether? Eunice Lipton’s search for the answer combines the suspense of a detective story with the revelatory power of art, peeling off layers of lies to reveal startling truths about Victorine Meurent-and about Lipton herself.
By combing through libraries and archives in Paris and New York, Lipton ( Looking into Degas ) hoped to reconstruct the life of Victorine Meurent and prove that this mysterious 19th-century woman, an artist in her own right as well as the model for the famous nudes of Manet's Olympia and Dejeuner sur l'herbe, was more than the pathetic alcoholic who appears in academic studies by male art historians. Even though the results of her quest were meager--she found little about Meurent's life and was unable to locate any of her paintings--Lipton's account of her search is as exciting as a good detective story. Using reminiscences of her own troubled childhood as a catalyst and projecting her feelings and desires onto her elusive subject, she fleshes out the story and constructs a highly original portrait of Meurent, for whom she invents colorful monologues. The model emerges as a strong and independent woman who defies all efforts by traditional scholars to patronize and degrade her. Lipton's iconoclastic, feminist approach is refreshing and intriguing.