Manet’s sitter emerged from a grim early life to become one of the wealthiest and most fashionable courtesans in Paris. By the time she posed for this portrait, at age thirty-one, she had reinvented herself as the Valtesse, a play on the phrase "Votre Altesse" (Your Highness). Cultivating a coterie of upper-crust suitors and admirers among the literati, she surrounded herself with the trappings of aristocratic luxury. Her grand bed, now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, inspired the boudoir of the prostitute Nana in Emile Zola’s scandalous novel, published in 1879–80. To the Valtesse’s delight, this elegant pastel was shown at the Salon of 1880, just a year after Henri Gervex’s refined full-length portrait (Musée d’Orsay, Paris).
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Title:Emilie-Louise Delabigne (1848–1910), Called Valtesse de la Bigne
Artist:Edouard Manet (French, Paris 1832–1883 Paris)
Medium:Pastel on canvas
Dimensions:21 3/4 x 14 in. (55.2 x 35.6 cm)
Credit Line:H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Inscription: Signed (right center): Manet
the sitter, Paris (1879–1902; her sale, Haro and Bloche, Paris, June 2–7, 1902, no. 78, as "Portrait de jeune femme" for Fr 15,000 to Havemeyer, possibly through Alphonse Portier); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (until d. 1929; cat., 1931, p. 150)
Paris. La vie moderne. "Œuvres nouvelles d'Édouard Manet," April 1880, no. 19 (as "Tête de femme") [see Wilson-Bareau 1991].
Paris. Salon. May 1–?, 1880, no. 5319 (as "Portrait de V.") [see Rodary 2019].
Paris. École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition des œuvres de Édouard Manet," January 6–28, 1884, no. 138 (as "Portrait," lent by Mlle V.).
Copenhagen. location unknown. "Den Franske Kunstudstilling," May 18–November 16, 1888, no. 194 (as "Portrait de Mme Valtesse").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 184 (as "Mlle Valtesse de la Bigne") [2nd ed., 1958, no. 164, as "The Countess Valtesse de la Bigne"].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A361 (as "Mlle Lucie Delabigne (1859–1910), Called Valtesse de la Bigne").
LOAN OF THIS WORK IS RESTRICTED.
Valtesse. Letter to Édouard Manet.  [reprinted in A. Tabarant, "Manet: Histoire catalographique," Paris, 1931, p. 463], notes that she misunderstood Manet as wanting to execute the portrait at her house and hopes that he can give her another appointment.
Valtesse de la Bigne. Letter to Édouard Manet.  [reprinted in A. Tabarant, "Manet: Histoire catalographique," Paris, 1931, p. 463], notes that she is very satisfied with this portrait.
Edouard Manet. Letter to Valtesse de la Bigne. [1879?] [reprinted and translated in Rodary 2019, p. 167], asks Valtesse to stop by the studio one day as he has something to ask her (see Rodary 2019).
Paul Alexis. "Manet." La revue moderne et naturaliste (1880), pp. 289–95 [see Ref. Rouart and Wildenstein 1975].
Edouard Manet. Letter to Valtesse de la Bigne. [early March 1880] [published and translated in Rodary 2019, p. 170], asks to show her portrait at the Salon, noting that there will be "suitable rooms for pastels this year"; offers to have it picked up.
Valtesse de la Bigne. Letter to Edouard Manet. [early March 1880] [published and translated in Rodary 2019, p. 171], expresses enthusiasm at the prospect of having the portrait exhibited (presumably at the Salon) and her willingness to lend it for that purpose.
Fernand Xau. "Valtesse de la Bigne." Gil Blas 5 (June 13, 1883), p. 2, remarks on seeing the portrait in the sitter's home along with two other portraits of her, one by Jules "Lefèvre" [sic] (Lefebvre) and the other by an unnamed Chinese painter.
Illustreret katalog over udstillingen af Franske Kunstværker, I. Exh. cat., location unknown, Copenhagen. Copenhagen, 1888, p. 18, no. 194, includes an illustration of Manet's "Jeanne (Spring)" (1881, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles), which was also on view, incorrectly labeled as "Portræt af Mme Valtesse".
Roger Ballu. Letter to Vilhelm Klein. May 1, 1888, includes it as "Portrait de Mme Valtesse" in a list of pastels he has secured for Copenhagen 1888.
Théodore Duret. Histoire d'Édouard Manet et de son œuvre. Paris, 1902, p. 284, no. 21, ill.
Etienne Moreau-Nélaton. Manuscrit de l'œuvre d'Édouard Manet, peinture et pastels. , unpaginated, no. 355 [Département des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris], notes that it was no. 19 in the Vie Moderne exhibition of 1880.
Théodore Duret. Manet and the French Impressionists. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1910]. London, 1912, p. 266, no. 21.
Etienne Moreau-Nélaton. Manet raconté par lui-même. Paris, 1926, vol. 2, pp. 64, 131, figs. 250 and 350, dates it about 1880 and publishes a photograph of it in Manet's Paris exhibition of 1884.
A. Tabarant. "Les Manet de la collection Havemeyer." La Renaissance 13 (February 1930), pp. 71, 74, ill., dates it 1879.
A. Tabarant. Manet, histoire catalographique. Paris, 1931, pp. 462–63, no. 23, publishes letters from Delabigne to Manet regarding this portrait.
Paul Jamot and Georges Wildenstein. Manet. Paris, 1932, vol. 1, p. 164, no. 359; vol. 2, fig. 210, date it about 1879.
Auriant. Les Lionnes du second empire. Paris, 1935, pp. 187–88, recounts Valtesse's sitting for the portrait and reprints her letters to Manet about it.
A. Tabarant. Manet et ses œuvres. 4th ed. (1st. ed. 1942). Paris, 1947, pp. 368–69, 376, 546, no. 481, fig. 481, dates it 1879 and erroneously lists it as no. 13 in the Vie moderne exhibition catalogue of 1880.
John Rewald. Édouard Manet: Pastels. Oxford, 1947, pp. 40, 59, no. 26, fig. 26.
George Heard Hamilton. Manet and His Critics. New Haven, 1954, p. 227.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. New York, 1961, p. 232, describes it without identifying the sitter.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 3, XIX–XX Centuries. New York, 1967, pp. 51–52, ill.
Sandra Orienti inThe Complete Paintings of Manet. New York, 1967, p. 112, no. 293, ill.
Denis Rouart and Daniel Wildenstein. Édouard Manet, catalogue raisonné. Paris, 1975, vol. 2, p. 6–7, no. 14, ill., date it 1879, call the sitter Mademoiselle Valtesse de la Bigne (Lucie Delabigne, 1859–1910); date her years as an actress for the Bouffes Parisiens 1866–69, observing that she became "princesse du demimonde" and was never more than a dilettante.
Jean-Jacques Lévêque. "Trois intérieurs du début de la Troisième République (ceux de Sarah Bernhardt, de Mme Valtesse de la Bigne et d'Yvette Guilbert)." Gazette des beaux-arts 87 (March 1976), p. 94, mentions it in a study of the sitter and her residence.
Theodore Reff. Manet and Modern Paris. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1982, pp. 16–17, fig. 6.
Éric Darragon. Manet. Paris, 1991, pp. 305, 314, colorpl. 213.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 232, 334 n. 337, provides the price paid at the 1902 sale.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 286.
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 356–57, no. A361, ill.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 447, ill.
Beth Archer Brombert. Édouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat. Boston, 1996, p. 416.
Helen Burnham. "Fashion and the Representation of Modernity: Studies in the Late Work of Edouard Manet (1832–1883)." PhD diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 2007, pp. 143–45, 152, colorpl. 3.17, discusses the sitter's revival dress style.
Catherine Hewitt. The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret. London, 2015, pp. 164–67, 338 n. 24, unnumbered colorpl., calls the image "the very essence of a contemporary monarch"; states that Henri Gervex accompanied the Valtesse for her sitting and suggests that Gervex introduced her to Manet; remarks that the portrait resulted in a strong friendship between artist and sitter.
Richard Thomson inSplendeurs & misères: Images de la prostitution, 1850–1910. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 2015, p. 181.
Richard Thomson inEasy Virtue: Prostitution in French Art, 1850–1910. Exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam, 2016, pp. 80, 83.
Emily A. Beeny inManet Paintings and Works on Paper at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ed. Gloria Groom and Genevieve Westerby. Chicago, 2019, under no. 19 [https://publications.artic.edu/manet/reader/manetart/section/140049].
Samuel Rodary inBerthe Morisot. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 2019, pp. 258, 281 n. 27.
Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist's Last Years. Ed. Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Los Angeles, 2019, p. 11, states that Manet exhibited the picture in the Salon of 1880.
Leah Lehmbeck inManet and Modern Beauty: The Artist's Last Years. Ed. Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Los Angeles, 2019, p. 61.
Emily A. Beeny inManet and Modern Beauty: The Artist's Last Years. Ed. Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Los Angeles, 2019, p. 110 n. 92, p. 111 n. 104, states that The Met's picture was the only pastel Manet showed at the Salon of 1880.
Samuel Rodary inManet and Modern Beauty: The Artist's Last Years. Ed. Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom. Exh. cat.Los Angeles, 2019, pp. 162, 167–71, fig. 92 (color), notes her enthusiastic response to the portrait and that their acquaintance went beyond her posing for it; wonders whether Manet [1879?] shows his intent to make this portrait; reprints both Valtesse 1879 letters; publishes Manet and Valtesse's exchange of letters that he dates early March 1880; states that the portrait was exhibited at the Salon of 1880 under no. 5319 ("Portrait de V.") and erroneously states that Gervex exhibited another portrait of her there in 1880 as no. 1355 (Gervex's "Madame Valtesse de la Bigne" [1879, Musée d'Orsay, Paris] actually appeared at the Salon under that number the previous year).
The Valtesse de la Bigne’s first name and birth date have been confused at times with someone ten years her junior named Lucie Delabigne (see Rouart and Wildenstein 1975). While her given name seems to have been Emilie-Louise, she was called Louise after her mother, who shared the same name. The pastel was first exhibited by Manet under two titles in 1880: "Tête de femme" and "Portrait de V." (the second most recently found and discussed in Rodary 2019). As the young grisette sought fame and fortune as a courtesan, she changed her last name from Delabigne to "de la Bigne," evoking noble origins, and renamed herself "Valtesse," a contraction of "Votre Altesse" (Your Highness).
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