Today is coincidence day – again. My title is deliberately misleading because I am not going to deal with Édouard Manet nor Felix Mendelssohn. Today is the birthday of Julie Manet (1878-1966), Édouard’s niece, and of Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), Felix’s sister. Both worked in areas similar to their more well-known kin, but tended to be pushed aside in their lifetimes in favor of the men in their lives. I am not in a position to do much to redress the balance, but I can set you on the right path.
Julie Manet was a painter, but is better known as a model for the likes of Manet, Berthe Morisot (her mother), and Renoir. She also kept a detailed diary documenting the life and times of a variety of Impressionist artists, and held an extensive collection of late 19th and early 20th century art, in large part because of her association with active artists in Paris.
Julie Manet was born in Paris, the daughter and only child of artist Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet, younger brother of Édouard Manet. Both of her parents by the time she was 16, and so she came under the guardianship of the poet/critic Stéphane Mallarmé and went to live with her cousins. She also received support from the family’s artist friends, Renoir in particular.
Throughout her life Julie posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist artists, including Renoir and her uncle Édouard. Here’s a small gallery:
Manet began a diary as a teenager; not the usual diary of a well-off girl bound in leather, but a series of memories jotted down in notebooks and on scraps of paper, published in English in 1987 as Growing up with the Impressionists. Of particular importance are her reminiscences of the effect that the Dreyfus Affair of the late 19th/early 20th century had on the art community. The Affair began in December 1894 with the treason conviction of captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian and Jewish descent, sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. Dreyfus was later proven innocent, and a combination of military corruption and anti-Semitism were shown to be to blame for convicting him in the first place. But between 1894 and 1906 public opinion in Paris was deeply divided between those for and those against Dreyfus. Many Parisians simply could not believe that the military would fake evidence and falsely accuse an innocent man (which is exactly what they did), and anti-Semitism was rife. Dinner parties were notorious for descending into near brawls if the Dreyfus Affair were brought up.
The art community was as deeply divided and as passionate about their opinions as any other, stating them quite openly. But Renoir insisted on being neutral in public. He claimed that he was neither pro- or anti-Dreyfus, but was, first and foremost, a Frenchman. Julie Manet’s diary tells a different story. According to her written accounts, Renoir was quite obviously anti-Semitic and argued vehemently in private that Dreyfus was guilty, even though the evidence suggested otherwise.
In May 1900 Julie Manet married Ernest Rouart, artist and nephew of the painter Henri Rouart. The wedding, which took place in Passy, was a double ceremony in which Julie’s cousin Jeannie Gobillard married Paul Valéry.
Fanny Mendelssohn, later Fanny [Cäcilie] Mendelssohn Bartholdy and, after her marriage, Fanny Hensel, was a pianist and composer, rivaling her brother Felix in both respects. She composed over 460 pieces of music in her short lifetime. Her compositions include a piano trio and several books of solo piano pieces and songs. A number of her compositions were originally published under her brother’s name in his opus 8 and 9 collections, because it was not considered appropriate at the time for a woman to be a composer (including by Felix himself). Many of Fanny’s works were not disentangled from Felix’s oeuvre for decades, and, some are still under debate. Her Easter sonata, for example, was not shown to be hers, and not Felix’s until 2010, after years of painstaking research by a a doctoral candidate at Duke University, and performed for the first time with Fanny listed as composer in 2012.
Fanny Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, the oldest of four children. She was descended on both sides from distinguished Jewish families. Her parents were Abraham Mendelssohn (who was the son of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and later changed the family surname to Mendelssohn Bartholdy), and Lea, née Salomon, a granddaughter of the entrepreneur Daniel Itzig. She was not however brought up as Jewish, and never practiced Judaism.
Mendelssohn received her first piano instruction from her mother, who had been trained in the Berliner-Bach tradition by Johann Kirnberger, who was himself a student of Johann Sebastian Bach. Thus, as a 13 year old, she could already play all 24 Preludes from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier by heart, and she did so in honor of her father’s birthday in 1818. She studied briefly with the pianist Marie Bigot in Paris, and finally with Ludwig Berger. In 1820 Fanny, along with her brother Felix, joined the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin which was led by Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter at one point favored Fanny over Felix. He wrote to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1816, introducing Abraham Mendelssohn to the poet: “He has adorable children and his oldest daughter could give you something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special.” Much later, in an 1831 letter to Goethe, Zelter described Fanny’s skill as a pianist with what he considered the highest praise for a woman at the time: “She plays like a man.” Both Fanny and Felix received instruction in composition with Zelter starting in 1819.
Fanny showed prodigious musical ability as a child and began to write music. Visitors to the Mendelssohn household in the early 1820s, including Ignaz Moscheles and Sir George Smart, were equally impressed by both siblings. However, Fanny was limited by prevailing attitudes of the time toward women, attitudes apparently shared by her father, who was tolerant, rather than supportive, of her activities as a composer. Her father wrote to her in 1820 “Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.” Although Felix was privately broadly supportive of her as a composer and a performer, he was cautious (professedly for family reasons) of her publishing her works under her own name. He wrote:
From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it.
Felix did arrange with Fanny for some of her songs to be published under his name, which resulted in an embarrassing moment when Queen Victoria, receiving Felix at Buckingham Palace, expressed her intention of singing the composer her favorite of his songs, “Italien” (words by Franz Grillparzer), which Felix had to admit was by Fanny.
In 1829, after a courtship of several years, Fanny married the painter Wilhelm Hensel and the following year she had her only child, Sebastian Ludwig Felix Hensel. Her husband was supportive of her composing. Subsequently, her works were often played alongside her brother’s at the family home in Berlin in a Sunday concert series (Sonntagskonzerte), which was originally organized by Fanny’s father, and after 1831 carried on by Fanny herself. Her public debut at the piano (and only known public performance) came in 1838, when she played her brother’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In 1846, she decided, without consulting Felix, to publish a collection of her songs (as her Op. 1).
Fanny died in Berlin in 1847 of complications from a stroke suffered while rehearsing one of her brother’s oratorios, The First Walpurgis Night. Felix himself died less than six months later from the same cause (which was also responsible for the deaths of both of their parents and of their grandfather Moses), but not before completing his String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, written in memory of his sister.
In recent years, Fanny Mendelssohn’s music has become better known thanks to concert performances and a number of CDs being released. A sample:
Finding a recipe that celebrates the lives of two very different women who lived at different periods in the 19th century and were born into very different cultures is a real challenge. I figured that a recipe from Auguste Escoffier might be able to bridge the gap if I searched diligently enough. Early in his career Escoffier served in Metz as chef de cuisine of the Rhine Army after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Franco-Prussian War being one of the factors leading up to the Dreyfus Affair. Although Escoffier is indubitably the founder of classic French cuisine of the 19th and 20th centuries, he took ideas from a variety of cultures, including German, and wove them into his culinary world. So, here’s his recipe (modified) for côtes de porc à la flamande (Escoffier 2921), which would be equally at home in Hamburg as in Paris.
Côtes de Porc à la Flamande
4 pork chops
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
juice of ½ lemon
35g unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
Place the apple slices in a bowl, squeeze lemon juice over them and toss them in the juice.
Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a pan over high heat, and quickly brown the pork chops on both sides. Remove them to an earthenware or ceramic baking pan in a single layer. Cover the chops with apple slices and drizzle them with the butter and pan juices from the searing.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Remove the dish from the oven, let the pork chops rest for a few minutes, then serve them with mashed or boiled new potatoes.