Whilst the identity of the woman in the present work remains subject to speculation, she has a hauntingly strong presence and intense allure. Her confident bearing commands the viewers’ attention and the two large dogs she holds on a leash suggest her being independent and in full control. A soft warm gaze and relaxed posture counterbalance this and in the background, a woman pushing a pram hints at motherhood. Manet’s masterful skill in rendering the lively and intimate character of his subjects was partly achieved by adorning portraits with references of contemporary life. In doing so, he transformed this enduring medium into a snapshot of everyday life, vivid and uniquely tailored to the individual sitter.
Seemingly painted en plein air, this marvellous portrait shows one of Manet’s preferred modes for portraiture. He sought for immediacy and spontaneity to capture modern life. Claude Monet reported that ‘Manet made things very difficult for himself: he had a laborious and careful method. He always wanted his paintings to look as if done at the first attempt; but often, in the evening, he scraped down his palette knife everything he had done during the day’ (quoted in Mary Anne Stevens, “Manet: Portraying life. Themes and Variations,” Manet: Portraying Life (exhibition catalogue), London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2013, pp. 20-21).
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