Manet threw himself into the challenge of finding subjects, compositional formats and painting techniques that would provide a new language of art suitable for the representation of modernity and contemporary life. In Profil de jeune fille we see this desire manifested with particular strength in the tight, avant-garde framing and strong illumination of the figure. Coupled with the brilliant painting technique of animated, varied strokes of vibrant colors which he transferred to the canvas with seeming spontaneity and deference, the intimate character of the sitter has been uncovered. It is clear from the subtle characteristics of this young woman that Manet knew his model firsthand, having spent long hours in her company. The sitter of the present work has variously been identified by scholars as Ellen Andrée, the model-turned-actress featured in a number of Impressionist works, and Ellen André, daughter of fellow artist Edmond Alphonse André, a friend of Manet. The near-identical spelling of their last names, not to mention their similar physical appearance has led to continued uncertainty about the identity of the young subject. Though somewhat ambiguous, an examination of each attribution offers exciting insight into Manet's portraiture practice, demonstrating the ways in which Profil de jeune fille is a reflection of the artist's time, the city in which he lived and the inhabitants he encountered there.
Ellen Andrée (born Hélène Andrée) was a young ingénue of barely twenty when she embarked on a career as an artist’s model and joined the circle of cultural personalities of the Parisian café crowd. It was here that she was introduced to the painters Degas, Renoir and Manet and ultimately would appear in a number of significant Impressionist paintings in the 1870s and early 1880s. It has been proposed that a number of the features of the woman in the right foreground of Renoir’s celebrated Le Déjeuner des canotiers resemble those of Ellen Andrée and she most famously served as the model for the dissolute figure in Degas’ L’Absinthe, whose expressionless features and vacant stare perhaps suggests her future success as a genre actress. The young model began posing for Manet in the early 1870s, about the same time she sat for Degas, and looking back many years later on the experience of serving as an artist’s model said, “I was pretty good, I can say so now; I had a look that the Impressionists considered very modern, sexy, and I held the pose they wanted.” On the subject of Manet she is reported to have said, “Of all those painters, he was the only one I looked up to. I remember noticing he painted standing up, whereas his friends all sat. He was engrossed, courteous, distant. He was so high class! I felt so inferior in that studio on the rue d’Amsterdam. A really exceptional man” (quoted in A. Tabarant, “Des Peintres et leur modèles” in Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, May 1, 1921, pp. 261-63, reproduced in B. A. Brombert, Edouard Mantet: Rebel in a Frock Coat, New York, 1996, p. 383). Andrée has become recognizable as one of Manet’s female figures noted for their particular character and features, sitting for Manet’s works La Parisienne, Dans le Café, possibly La Prune and the present work. She would ultimately abandon modeling for a successful stage career in vaudeville and pantomime, where her skill in mimicry and strong presence on stage, much as in her portraits, was celebrated.
Alternatively, it has been speculated that the young woman who sat for Profil de jeune fille could be the daughter of the painter Edmond Alphonse André, Ellen André, a habitué of Café Guerbois and friend of Manet. According to the Wildenstein and Rouart catalogue entry, in 1873 Edmond André posed for Manet’s four versions of the notorious Commedia dell’Arte character Polichinelle. Although little is known about the life of André’s daughter, as the child of a friend and former subject and therefore likely also an acquaintance, her presence as the object of study for Manet is consistent within the scope of Manet’s portraiture practice. Given the strong physical resemblance of the two women, as well as the remarkable similarity in their names, confusion about the identity of the sitter for the present work endures.
Since very few of Manet’s extensive number of portraits produced were commissions, but rather invitations from the artist to act as a subject in his works, the restrictive parameters of commercial portraits have been removed allowing the artist greater flexibility towards experimentation. As with many portraits from Manet’s oeuvre, the present work remained unsigned and was kept in his collection until his death, later to be sold at the 1884 Vente Manet at Hôtel Drouot. Profil de jeune femme was among a select number of paintings that was purchased by a member of the Manet family. The work eventually became part of the illustrious personal collection of French-American banker David David-Weill. In 1939 David-Weill charged his curator Marcelle Minet with the task of preparing an inventory of his magnificent art collection and crating the bulk of it in order to save it from the feared Nazi invasion of France. The most important and valuable pieces in the collection were sent directly to the United States, including the present work. A further 130 crates were sent for safe keeping—unsuccessfully as it turned out—with the French National Art collections at the Château de Sourches and 22 crates to the Château de Mareil-le-Guyon. The present work remained in the David-Weill family until the 1980s but still bears the 1939 crate and inventory numbers, 45 and DW 30/89 respectively, on its stretcher and frame.
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