La Psyché by Eva Gonzalès

La Psyché (The Full-length Mirror) by Eva Gonzalès c.1869-70. Image: © The National Gallery, London.

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The purchase of La Psyché (The Full-length Mirror), c.1869-70, marks the first time the painting has been seen in public for more than 70 years. The acquisition is thanks to three legacy gifts from donors Mrs Martha Doris Bailey, Miss Gillian Cleaver and Ms Sheila Mary Holmes plus the National Gallery Trust.

It is the first acquisition by the gallery of a work by Gonzalès (1849-83) making her the 20th woman artist represented in its collection.

Gonzalès was the only official pupil of Edouard Manet (1832-83), under whom she studied from 1869 and became an established artist who exhibited multiple times at the official Paris Salon.

Growing interest

The museum said interest in Gonzalès has grown in recent years following a catalogue raisonné published in 1990 and her works have been included in exhibitions on women Impressionists in Frankfurt and San Francisco in 2008.

Gonzalès likely painted La Psyché around the same time that Manet was painting his portrait of her, Eva Gonzalès (1870) – a picture also in The Nation Gallery collection and was the focal point of its recent exhibition, Discover Manet & Eva Gonzalès.

La Psyché depicts a young woman looking in a full-length mirror (called une psyché in French). The sitter holds a small red flower – the sole spot of bright colour in this subdued painting. The model is Gonzalès’s younger sister Jeanne, who regularly posed for the artist.

According to the gallery, the “restricted domestic scene and reliance on family members as subjects demonstrate the difficulties facing female painters at the time in comparison with their male colleagues”.

La Psyché has not been seen in public for over 70 years and joins only one other painting by her in a UK public collection, The Donkey Ride, c.1880-2, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

By the time of her premature death Gonzalès had established herself as an artist who excelled in her portrayals of quiet bourgeois life, often featuring Jeanne, also an artist. Both Manet and Gonzalès died within a few weeks of each other, Gonzalès from an embolism following the birth of her son in spring 1883.

Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, said: “Eva died young and her works are rare. We are grateful to the legacy givers who have enabled us to buy it.”

The gallery said more than a quarter of its paintings have been acquired as a result of gifts in wills.