Young Woman in a Round Hat, ca. 1877–79

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883

Young Woman in a Round Hat, ca. 1877–79

Oil on canvas
The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, on long-term loan to the Princeton University Art Museum
photo: Bruce M. White

Like so many of Édouard Manet’s paintings, Young Woman in a Round Hat hovers between portraiture and painting of modern life. The woman remains unidentified: she might be an artist’s model, or a well-to-do Parisienne of the sort that frequented the social circles of the wealthy and connected Manet. She is certainly dressed as a woman of means, in a fashionable blue outfit with black hat and gloves—designed for promenading about town. Yet, the painter obscures her features behind the veil, defying standards of conventional portraiture. The viewer catches a glimpse of her left eye peering out obliquely, and her pursed lips do suggest something of her personality—but not enough to fix a likeness.

Art historian Bridget Alsdorf:

Although this painting’s basic subject, a woman taking a walk in the park, is Impressionist through and through, its presentation and execution depart from Impressionism in fundamental ways. The blues that make up the woman’s bodice and sleeve are painted with loose, dynamic strokes that play off areas of bare canvas throughout the collar and along the buttons, aerating the overall solidity of her form. But, despite these areas of Impressionistic brushwork, Young Woman in a Round Hat displays several decidedly non-Impressionist features—most notably its extensive use of black. Manet was a master of black in all its varied textures, shades, and sheens, and this painting demonstrates a range of examples, from the rich matte felt of the woman’s hat to the satin luster of her left glove, which contrasts with the rougher, duller fabric of the umbrella, to the violet-tinged shadow under her chin, to the wispy, faded strokes that outline her veil. The thickly outlined contours of the woman’s form also defy the usual Impressionist approach to shaping with color, without the aid of chiaroscuro or drawn lines. Manet drew the young woman’s silhouette with a bold blackish-blue border that makes her shape stand out against the pastel background.