And what a model! One of the best-known courtesans in Paris during the “Belle Epoque”! A rare beauty, intelligent and amusing! A friend, a confidante, a muse and a lover … Marie-Anne Louviot, known as Méry Laurent, was all of those things to Edouard Manet, but also to many other artists such as Stéphane Mallarmé and François Coppée. Marcel Proust for his novel Swann’s Way and Émile Zola for Nana, took inspiration from her life as an actress and “demi-mondaine” in Paris.
This fine portrait was a commission. Antonin Proust, Minister of the Arts at the time, turned to his childhood friend, the painter Edouard Manet, who was considered to be one of the fathers of Impressionism. The idea was to use fashionable women to illustrate a whole year. The work was therefore part of an allegorical series covering the four seasons, of which he completed only Spring in 1881, personified by Jeanne de Marsy, and Autumn, in 1882, interpreted by Méry Laurent.
Here, autumn is poetically evoked by this red-haired beauty, whose hair is one of the main attractions. She is dressed in a brown, almost black fur coat and muff designed by the great couturier Worth. The surprisingly blue background, decorated with chrysanthemums, is a silk kimono fabric embroidered for the occasion by the patron. Méry Laurent’s ruby lips emphasise her complexion and blue eyes to complete the allegory.
Finally, the model acquired the painting at an auction on the death of her friend Manet and bequeathed it to the museum in her home town, Nancy. Thanks to Méry Laurent, the musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy was the first museum in the region to possess one of the painter’s works.