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Completed in 1866, Édouard Manet's Woman with a Parrot was exhibited at the Salon in 1868 and received unfavorably by critics.
In their view, Manet had given his model, Victorine Meurenet, an unflattering pallor, deliberately finding and painting "ugliness" where there was none. But in eschewing representation of the model's natural complexion, Manet achieved a goal different than that of his critics. With masterful use of color, Édouard Manet created tremendous mood. In contrast to Manet's earlier paintings of Victorine, Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass, here she is fully clothed, playing the role of a fashionable woman, but this time not a courtesan.
The shapeless dressing gown she wears indicates that she is in the privacy of her home with her parrot, a symbol of intelligence, but also of secrets. For at that time, the parrot was considered a pet privy to the innermost thoughts of his owner, particularly if she was a woman. And this woman certainly has secrets. Around her neck she wears a man's monocle, and with her right hand she lifts a flower to her nose. With a pendant on a choker around her neck and a ribbon in her hair, is appears that she is either about to go out to a ball or has just arrived home from one. Édouard Manet seems to be giving the viewer hints of a romance, and the stories about which the woman must surely tell her parrot.
The same year Édouard Manet painted Woman with a Parrot, Gustave Courbet finished a painting of the same name. However Courbet's painting was a nude, and a rather erotic one at that. In it, the woman reclines on a bed, her beautiful, long waves of hair draping loosely across it, their dark sheen contrasting with the rosy glow of her flesh. She watches her parrot, wings spread, land on her outstretched fingers above her. The contrast in mood and intent between Courbet and Manet's paintings is striking. An important influence in the development of the Impressionist movement, Édouard Manet's work feels as fresh today as ever. Woman with a Parrot, is an intimate and charming depiction of a woman and her confidant, the pet parrot.