PARIS, 1863 — Lady Gaga, Madonna, yes, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift too, they all owe Vicky Meurent money. Or at least they will. Since current copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years, the copyright that Victorine Louise Meurent (18 February 1844 – 17 March 1927) holds on attitude officially expired on 17 March 1997. However when The Walt Disney Company next instructs the United States congress and thereby the Berne Convention and thereby The World to retroactively extend copyright to the life of the author plus 100 or 140 years, then Meurent’s copyright on attitude will be renewed and extended to 2027 or 2067 and Gaga and countless others will finally have to make good on their debt to The Estate of Victorine Louise Meurent.
Marshall McLuhan famously said that when something really becomes significant it becomes invisible. Not because it’s unimportant, but because it becomes ubiquitous. Today the Internet is slowly moving toward invisibility, but it’s still fairly new and we see, think, and talk about it a lot. But what about electricity? Everything in our world runs on some form of electricity. There’s nothing more important. Or ubiquitous. Or invisible.
When Victorine Meurent stared at painter Edouard Manet, and by extension all of human culture, she possessed a sense of will and confidence, a sense of self-determination, an owning of her own gaze and of her own body, that almost no woman depicted in paint had ever done before. Victorine Meurent owned her own gaze. Victorine Meurent invented attitude.
Today, a million music videos filled with pop stars staring down camera lenses later, it’s hard to believe that anyone doesn’t have attitude. It’s almost impossible to believe that there ever could have been a time on this earth when people, particularly women, did not have attitude, did not own their own gaze. But there was. Victorine Meurent invented attitude.
Unlike so many of his other paintings, the Manet paintings featuring Meurent all show a presence, a conscious embodiment rather unique in the figure painting of the time. Meurent dares to envision an empowered future, even if it will take another hundred years to realize. The confidence, the gaze, the self-awareness that so many possess and take as a given today was invented by this woman in this painting. Victorine Meurent invented attitude.
As a painter her works have not been preserved with the care Manet’s have, yet there was at least one year when Manet’s work was not accepted into the Paris salon, and Meurent’s work was.
I’m writing this post, like so many things in life, as a tangent to a tangent to a tangent, yet it is as real and meaningful and important as anything I can think of. A couple of days ago I happened to see a tweet from that megalomaniac of popular performance art Brian Feldman:
Who wants to be the one person I follow today.
I replied that I craved the attention, in principle, but feared my anemic tweeting so vastly unworthy. Kind of like that “FAME” project that Twitter killed after 19 days. I thought it was cool, but begged not to be the “lucky” winner as I didn’t want the pressure.
Anyway Feldman did follow me for a day which occasioned my blog post Brian Feldman Follows Me in which I talked a little about his 1Following project and even more about his 2 years earlier project Brian Feldman Marries Anyone. I argued a bit on behalf of “the bride” Hannah Miller and she replied in the comments, that she wasn’t an objectified damsel waiting to be rescued by a feminist not on a horse. Along the way I rhetorically asked if Miller was Meurent to Feldman’s Manet which she, hyperbolically, took as my statement that she was a drunken, talentless prostitute. And then a whole Meurent thing evolved in the comments and it seemed like, at long last, I should write a little about her.
I have talked and thought about Meurent so many times, it is inconceivable that I’ve never really written about her. At last I have. Thank you Hannah Miller. Thank you Brian Feldman. There is far more to say than I have in this brief post. Far more information to offer, far more analysis to perform, far more opinion and discussion to present. To Hannah, Brian, and YOU, please click on the comment box below: share what you know; share what you think.
Gaga and everyone else: you’re on notice, Vic will be collecting soon!
R E L A T E D . M A T E R I A L S
• Victorine Meurent / Wikipedia
• Alias Olympia / Eunice Lipton / Google Books