DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Discussion: Manet’s inclusion of a recognizable prostitute was poorly received. While the number of registered prostitutes in Paris in the mid 1860’s was 5,000, the unregistered number was much higher. By 1830, the estimated nine thousand clandestine prostitutes a decade earlier had increased to as many as twenty-two thousand, and within twenty years, had increased to an estimated thirty-four thousand, the same years in which Manet began exploring his new style which was rife with images of reclining women, including the prostitute Meurent. By 1843, Saint-Lazare Prison held between 1,250 and 1,300 women, including those who had been arrested for prostitution (97). Increasingly restrictive measures were put in place in part because of the work by Alexandere Parent-Duchâtelet who began an extensive study of prostitution in 1829. His endeavors initially were to redeem “those prostitutes whose hearts were not yet entirely perverted,” those, who like Magdalen, could find redemption in Christ (rpt in Matlock 23). Parent argued for increased regulation of the trade, encouraging the government to establish houses where the women could be protected, regulated, and reformed. The sense of fear expressed by Du Camp in his review of the Salon of 1861 regarding integration of prostitutes into daily Parisian life echoes Parent’s concerns as well: “They return to society,” Parent complains, “they surround us…they insinuate themselves into our houses and gain access to our homes” (rpt in Matlock 27). In 1863, Jules de Goncourt is wary of the penitent prostitute: “In my opinion, none of them escapes from the class of prostitutes. They offer you nothing but a woman of the brothel. Whether they emerge from it or not, it seems to me that they smell of it for ever” (rpt in Clark 110). According to de Goncourt, prostitutes are irredeemable.

Manet, by reintroducing an identifiable Parisian prostitute into the Salon after he had been criticized so sharply for doing so only a few years before, likewise fought to keep the prostitute as a symbol ever before the eyes of the public. Moreover, he placed her alongside a Christ whose resurrection, according Renan, was a product of a passionate, “hallucinating woman” (rpt in Brombert 151). Manet’s depiction of Victorine Meurent in ’63 and ‘65, naked on both canvases, frees her of the restrictive, identifying signs Parent proposed. She is liberated from the mark of her position, thereby regaining her individual, distinct identity. And she defies us with her direct stare to dare place her back into the confines of this demarcating attire.

While advocating additional policing of the prostitute, Parent abjures the male’s responsibility: “The administration,” he states, “cannot make men virtuous; it cannot correct their judgment and repress the impetuosity of the passions, which speak too loudly to leave men conscious of their duty” (rpt in Matlock 30). Not only are men unable to be policed by the government, compelled to be “virtuous” members of society through external administrative forces; according to Parent, they are led astray by the wonton passions of the prostitute to abandon “their duty.” Just like Adam in the Garden of Eden, the Parisian man who wishes not to be held accountable for his own actions, pointing to the woman as the cause of his fall: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12).


Christ Scourged, Detail
Edouard Manet, 1865

AIC Collection
Oil on Canvas
74 7/8 x 58 3/8 inches
Realism/Early Impressionism

Photo by RJ Molyneux-Davis, 2009

Yet Manet’s prostitute looks defiantly at the 23,000 daily Salon viewers, daring each one to take their own measure of responsibility in her plight. The viewer’s gaze is neither specifically male nor female, but those who would normally had been protected from her presence by the demarcating garments which she had to wear, those which Du Camp complained she had been allowed to set aside as she easily interacted with the moral Parisian men, women and children. Parent appeals for policing by playing upon a society’s worst fear of rape, yet oddly it is not an external marauder who is threatening, but the Parisian man himself. If denied his sexual expression in the arms of a prostitute, Parent writes; “He will not appeal to courtesans, indeed, but will instead pervert your daughters and your servants,” adding that “the most innocent and the most virtuous will be the ones he will choose to besiege and against whom he will use every imaginable means of seduction” (rpt in Matlock 30). ژ Thus, Parent ironically lifts up the body of the prostitute as Christ was lifted up for “the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Yet on Manet’s canvases, she is stripped just as Christ had been as he was mocked by the soldiers. We look upon the prostitute, alongside a dirty Christ, and the question, asked by Baudelaire, remains: Is he “a fairy, a god?”


Chat séraphique, chat étrange,
En qui tout est, comme en un ange,
Aussi subtil qu'harmonieux!


Seraphic cat, singular cat, 
In whom, as in angels, all is 
As subtle as harmonious!

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.