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This report is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

La Vie de Victorine David Arkell

If Manet was the Painter of Modern Life, his 'Déjeuner sur l'herbe' and 'Olympia' were the first modern nudes. It is no accident that Victorine Meurent starred in both.

The year is 1863 and here comes Victorine, not exactly tripping along but making her way blearily to the Left Bank bus-stop nearest her home. She has a date with the Master, which is important, but about the details she knows nothing and doesn't care. She's only regretting having lost so much sleep last night - he's bound to notice.

Manet waits in his studio near the Parc Monceau. She's late. He's been going over recent events. It all began last Sunday at Gennevilliers with those bathers and his remark to a friend: 'So they want me to do a nude - I'll give them nudes. Nudes like that lot and in the same sort of light.' Later he had leafed through his address book and selected the most down-to-earth of all his models: Victorine, a girl of the people and the perfect antidote to Salon pin-ups.

The daughter of Manet's engraver at 17 rue Maître-Albert, near the Place Maub', Victorine was a frank and fearless Parisienne with a strong independent manner and the sort of challenging eyes that summed you up. She also had a slim body, milky skin and stylish red hair. Plus the merest suggestion of a squint, which was unheard of in nineteenth century Salon circles.

Manet would ...

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