Friday 14 December 2018

What Lies Beneath: The Donkey Ride by Eva Gonzales

The Donkey Ride by Eva Gonzales, Oil on canvas, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Niall MacMonagle

Every picture tells a story. Yes, we've heard that before but this picture contains a story that has yet to happen. Seated on the donkey, the woman, all dressed up and somewhere to go, with a far-away, dreamy look is Jeanne Gonzales, herself an artist, and the artist Eva Gonzales's younger sister. Henri Guerard, the relaxed man by Jeanne's side and staring into space is the artist's husband, an engraver.

French artist Eva Gonzales is keeping it in the family. Her sister and husband often sat for her.

In this out-of-doors, summery work, the tall tree, full of itself, shows off its leaves with a flourish; the sky is fresh, there's a little wooden bridge in the background.

Jeanne sports a hat trimmed with artificial fruit and her blue dress with white collar peeping through is elegantly casual. In her left hand there's a switch though she doesn't look as if she's set to gallop anytime soon.

Blues and greens dominate and Guerard's buff-coloured clothes complement the tree trunk and contrast with the donkey's dark brown coat. A line of red on the saddle seat picks up on the red band on the donkey's forehead. Jeanne and Henri are lost in their own worlds; only the donkey has an eye on the viewer.

Eva Gonzales, whose mother was a musician, her father a novelist, married Guerard in 1876, bore her first child in 1883, a son, Jean-Raymond, but died of an embolism five days later.

Gonzales painted this, circa 1880, when she was 31 and the unfinished painting - see how Henri's jacket is undefined - was never exhibited during her lifetime. The only Gonzales work in a public collection in Britain, it was discovered in her studio after her death at 34.

The brushstroke is loose and fluid in the Impressionist style. Eva Gonzales, noted for her great beauty, had modelled for Edouard Manet and Manet, later, became her teacher. Manet's portrait of her hangs in London's National Gallery.

When Gonzales painted her sister and her husband, neither she nor Jeanne nor Henri could know what would happen.

Following Eva's death, Jeanne brought up Jean-Raymond and, once again keeping it in the family, Jeanne married Henri in 1888.

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