Françoise Cachin writes on Manet’s use of the pastel medium, “Pastel allowed [Manet] a freshness, a gay palette, a powdery texture more flattering to the face and introducing a kind of makeup into the technique itself. The women who posed for him, whether of the monde or demi-monde—Mme Guillemet, Mme Michel Lévy, Valtesse de la Bigne, Irma Brunner, and Méry Laurent, then the most frequent subjects—were delighted with their likenesses” (Françoise Cachin, “La Viennoise Portrait of Irma Brunner,” in Manet 1832-1883, New York, 1983, p. 493).
As in many of Manet’s greatest works, the artist blurs the distinctions between the illusion of his technique and the pure visual delight of manipulated medium in Jeune femme decolletté. Most likely inspired by Degas’ pastels, Manet employed the medium to further explore the broad expanses of color and the suppression of transitional tones in his portraits (see fig. 1).
Leah Lehmbeck notes the effect of Manet’s pastel profiles and portraits, “Boldly executed and only flirting with finish, they impressed the critics who had often had trouble with these same qualities in his paintings. Indeed, after complaining of Manet’s failings in his paintings, Paul Sebillot remarked on the pastels, "but the same faults, because of the greater freedom of the medium, appear less shocking. They are among the most admired works in the present exhibition and they deserve to be" (Leah Lehmbeck, “L’Ésprit de l’atelier: Manet’s Late Portraits of Women, 1878-1883," in Manet: Portraying Life, London, 2012, p. 55).
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