During the summer of 1868, Manet spent time with this family in Boulogne-sur-Mer. It was here he caught sight of people on a balcony, inspiring his famous painting The Balcony, for which The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus is a preparatory study.
This portrait is an important example of Manet’s work from the late 1860s onwards when he began to focus his attention on his family and close friends. The portrait’s subject is Fanny Claus (1846–77), the closest friend of Manet’s wife Suzanne Leenhoff. A concert violinist and member of the first all-women string quartet, Fanny was a member of a close-knit group of friends who also provided the artist with models. She married the artist Pierre Prins (1838–1913), another friend of Manet’s, in 1869, but died of tuberculosis just eight years later at the age of 30.
It is thought that the painting was unfinished when artist John Singer Sargent fell in love with the portrait at a studio sale in 1868 and brought it to England. It is likely that the unfinished characteristics were Manet’s intention, serving to add to the intrigue of this great work.
Having been acquired by the Ashmolean, Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus will be lent to public museums and galleries in a nationwide tour in 2013.