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