I recently redid my website. In the last moments of finishing the design, I decided I wanted to add a line of text to my home page. At first I thought of saying, “When an artist meets his muse,” but when I typed it, something didn’t feel right to me.
I’ve written before about how I always get a little nervous about using the word “muse.” But as I typed “When an artist meets his muse” onto my home page, I realized I was objecting to something a little different.
In Paris Red, when Victorine and Manet meet, they choose each other. It’s a relationship that both negotiate from the start. (In fact, Manet approaches Victorine and her best friend Denise, and both young women decide to accept his offer of friendship.) The moment of meeting isn’t just about something happening to Manet—it’s about something happening to Victorine, too.
So that’s why I wrote,
When a muse meets her artist.
There’s one other reason I decided to flip the expected phrase, and it has to do with something Juliet Wilson Bareau wrote in a 1986 exhibition catalog The Hidden Face of Manet: An Investigation of the Artist’s Working Processes.
When researchers X-rayed Olympia they found a series of changes had taken place in the painting. Bareau writes, “The head of Olympia shows signs of strong scraping and reworking, and it is not inconceivable that Victorine came to replace an earlier model.” (Emphasis mine.)
If Bareau is right, if Manet tried to paint Olympia before he met Victorine Meurent and was unable to do so, it seems to speak directly of the power of the relationship he had with her.
I chose to write Paris Red with Victorine as my narrator, and I depict her as a willing partner and very active muse in my novel. I hope I convey that in a simple line on my website.