Paris 1847 - Paris 1883
Born into a cultivated Parisian family, Eva Gonzalès received her early artistic training in the studio of the portrait painter Charles Chaplin, from whom she learned the art of pastel. In 1869, at the age of twenty-two, she was taken on as a pupil by Edouard Manet. She was, in fact, to be his only student, and also posed for a number of paintings and drawings by Manet. Although her early work reveals the distinct influence of Manet, as her independent career progressed she developed a more personal, intimate style of painting. Gonzalès achieved her earliest success at the Salon of 1870, where she exhibited two paintings and a pastel; these earned approving notices from the influential critics Philippe Burty, Jules Castagnary, Zacharie Astruc and Edmond Duranty, and one of her paintings was purchased by the State. As one modern scholar has noted, ‘Her talents, especially in pastel technique, attracted the attention of critics right from the start, and like [Berthe] Morisot, she was often compared with Rosalba Carriera.’ Further critical success accompanied her works exhibited at the Salon of 1872. The following year, however, her submitted painting was rejected by the Salon jury and was instead exhibited at the Salon des Refusés, in the catalogue of which she described herself as a pupil of both Chaplin and Manet.
Producing mainly portraits, still life subjects and contemporary genre scenes, Eva Gonzalès continued to show her work at the annual Salons, albeit not every year, throughout her relatively brief career. However, although she was invited, like Manet she never took part in any of the seven Impressionist exhibitions. Nevertheless, she is generally considered to be a member of the Impressionist movement by virtue of her painting style. Her work continued to attract favourable comments from writers and critics, including Emile Zola and Jules Claretie; the latter noted in 1874 that she was ‘an artist of rare talent, who takes the brush after having handled pastel like Rosalba.’
In January 1879 Gonzalès married the printmaker Henri Guérard, a friend and collaborator of Manet. Apart from being shown at the Salons, her work was also included in a handful of gallery exhibitions in Paris, notably at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1883. Gonzalès died of an embolism in May 1883 at the age of thirty-six, less than three weeks after the birth of her son Jean-Raymond, and six days after the death of her master Manet. In 1885 a large retrospective exhibition of her work, organized by her father and her husband, was held at the offices of the magazine La Vie Moderne in Paris. This was, in fact, her first solo exhibition, and included eighty-eight paintings and drawings.
Pastels make up a substantial portion of Eva Gonzalès’s oeuvre, and indeed accounted for nearly a quarter of the works shown in the posthumous exhibition of 1885. The artist worked concurrently in oil and pastel throughout her career, and showed her first pastel at the Salon of 1870, eventually exhibiting a total of nine works in this medium at the Salons. As the French critic Octave Mirbeau wrote of Gonzalès’s works in pastel, at the time of an exhibition of her work at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris in 1914, ‘It is simplicity, it is sincerity, it is serenity. Absolutely no feminine over-sentimentality, nor a desire to simply make pretty or nice, and yet what an exquisite charm.’ Eighteen years later, another critic praised Gonzalès’s ‘marvellous pastels, drawn in the manner of the worthy Chardin, with subtle daring, broken, delicate colours, which blend in sweet harmony...with a virile draughstmanship.’