The Blonde with Bare Breast, 1878 by Edouard Manet

Manet is one of the greatest painters of women and the female body. Breaking with the academicism of the schools and successful artists, he began by presenting us the fresh nude form of Victorine Meurend in Luncheon on the Crass. Then he painted Olympia, using the same model. By academic canons, she is a monstrosity, but there is something naive and startling about her, something which touches a new chord in the onlooker. After that, Manet painted few nudes until 1872, when he painted the Brunette with Bare Breasts, posed by a model he used only occasionally. The Brunette lacks the physical appeal of the Blonde, which was painted in the studio lent to Manet by the Swedish artist Rosen. The model's name was Marguerite. She also posed for the Tub and the Woman with a Garter. Tabarant talks of her "chubby little face" and wonders how Moreau-Nelaton could have taken her for Ellen Andree.

The flesh tints are magnificent. The pearl glow of the skin has been admirably set off by the pale green background. With a sure hand, the artist has added a few finishing touches of aerial lightness. The pink and white body is bathed in light and resembles, as Gustave Geffroy wrote, "flower and fruit - an exquisite evocation of living and perishable flesh."

After The Blonde with Bare Breasts, Manet executed a number of pastel portraits of the women who came to see him at Bellevue, Rueil, Versailles, and in his home in Paris. To our eyes, this last series of portraits - heiresses, young girls, actresses, and models - is a lingering farewell of the artist to womankind.