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Fumette

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
(1934.542)
Number: 12
Date: 1858
Medium: etching
Size: 163 x 109 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower right (2-final)
Inscribed: 'Imp. Delatre. Rue St. Jacques, 171' at lower left (5)
Set/Publication: 'French Set', 1858
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 75
Catalogues: K.13; M.15; T.12; W.18
Impressions taken from this plate  (75)

KEYWORD

clothing, dress, fashion, hair, model, portrait, woman seated.

TITLE

This was called 'Fumette' by Whistler and all later cataloguers, for example:


' Fumette ' (1858, Whistler). 1
' "Fumette" ' (1870s, Whistler). 2
' Fumette ' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 3

1: Douze eaux-fortes d'après Nature, 'French Set'.

2: Inscribed on Graphic with a link to impression #K0130101.

3: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 12).

DESCRIPTION

A young woman, with centrally-parted, curly shoulder-length hair, sits on a low stool or step facing the viewer. Her hands are clasped over her knees. She wears a dark apron over a full skirt, a long pointed collar with lace edge over a fitted bodice; the sleeves are gathered in tucks at the top and full below.

SITTER

Eloise ('Fumette') (fl. 1840-1858). Éloise - also called Héloïse - posed for Fumette, Standing [59], Fumette's Bent Head [58] and Venus [60], and for related drawings 4 including Seated seamstress with male companion [m0288], reproduced below.

4: r.: Fumette; v.: Dancing clowns [m0289], probably r.: A girl reclining on a couch, reading; v.: Female head [m0290].

Comparative image
Seated seamstress with male companion [m0288], pencil,
Freer Gallery of Art.
Whistler's first partner, Héloïse was a grisette, a vivid and fiery character. A grisette, as described in Henri Murger's Scènes de la vie de Bohème (1848/1851) and Alfred de Musset's poem Mimi Pinson (1845), was a working girl, a young seamstress or milliner, fun-loving and faithful as a lover.
It would seem they did not part amicably. Some time after they parted, Whistler wrote to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) regarding a meeting that had taken place between Fantin, Alphonse Legros (1837-1911), and Fumette:
'Je connais déja la rencontre de vous deux avec Heloise et son anecdote! de quoi veut elle se venger! ' (I already know about the meeting between you two and Héloïse and her anecdote! She wants her revenge!' 5

5: [May 1864], GUW #08039.

DISCUSSION

Wedmore responded to Fumette's appearance in the etching, describing her as having 'lively eyes and thick hair loose to the shoulders, crouch[ing] with head bent forward and knees upraised.' 6 The pose was distinctly informal and would have been regarded as unladylike. However, although Fumette's pose and hair suggest a 'wild, gypsy-like street girl', Whistler's realistic depiction of her dress, with its full sleeves gathered in narrow tucks and the lace collar, modifies this, suggesting her skill at sewing. 7

6: Wedmore 1886 A , op. cit.

7: MacDonald 2003 , p. 55, fig. 51.

Mansfield wrote 'It is said that the model for "Fumette" was a little milliner of the Latin Quarter, named Eloise'. 8 Mansfield, incidentally, described her as 'wearing a mantilla with lace collar'. A lace collar she certainly has, but what he meant by a mantilla is not clear.

8: Mansfield 1909 , op. cit.