Though this painting was initially titled Portrait of Madame ***, we know exactly who this lady is: Pauline Croizette, the wife of the artist Charles Carolus-Duran. His portrait of Pauline was an immediate success, winning a medal at the French Salon the same year it was painted, 1869. The French Salon at this time was the “official” exhibition of French artists, part of a tough system that required artists to submit paintings every year in order to ultimately earn commissions, gain students, and make a living as artists. At least initially, the Impressionists were less than successful in gaining entry into this universe of official artists. Just six years before this painting, the French government actually sponsored its first exhibition of rejected artists—the Salon des Refusés—after artists protested the rejection of more than 3,000 works for that year’s Salon.
Carolus-Duran had a foot in both camps. He would go on to be a well-known portraitist with a highly regarded atelier, but his Lady with the Glove demonstrates his avant-garde leanings—not a surprise when you learn that he counted “rejected” artists such as Manet, Degas, and Monet as his friends. This painting is, on the one hand,a beautiful example of “society portraiture” with its invisible strokes and nearly microscopic level of detail. (In fact, Carolus-Duran’s attention to dress and costume was so fastidious and lush that later one Salon art critic would refer jokingly to the “Carolus-Duran Line of Velvets.”)
But there are elements of his portrait of Pauline that point to modernist tendencies. Carolus-Duran has lavished attention on a hat and hair accessories that would quickly become unfashionable, thus engaging in the same transitory subjects as the Impressionists and their emphasis on la mode. And perhaps even more “impressionistic” is that Pauline is captured in the act of removing her gloves, one being peeled off with the other already dropped at her feet. “High life” portraiture at this time would have depicted women in a much less transitional state.
During this period, gloves were worn extremely tightly—see the real-life examples in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernityand try to imagine fitting even a pencil into the fingers—and the act of removing them held a sensual allure. A woman who was liberating her fingers from her gloves often fluttered them to regain circulation, a coy and feminine act. Compared to many of Manet’s renderings of gloves—slashing and indeterminate strokes—Carolus-Duran’s gloves are charged with a quiet yet keen allure, perhaps the promise of things to come.
Image Credit: Charles Carolus-Duran. The Lady with the Glove, 1869. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, RF 152, RF 2756.