The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Méry Laurent, 1849-1900

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1849.04.29
Place of Birth: Nancy
Date of Death: 1900.11.26
Place of Death: Paris


Méry Laurent, née Anne-Rose Louviot, was an artist. She was married in her youth to a shopkeeper in Nancy, Jean-Claude Laurent, but the marriage did not last long. She changed her name from Anne-Rose to Marie for her theatre début at the age of sixteen. Around 1874 she met the wealthy American dentist Dr Thomas Evans, who became her lover and guardian, giving her a private income of 50,000 fr., an apartment in the Rue de Rome (no. 52) and a house in the Boulevard Lannes (no. 9). This marked the end of her theatrical career.


Laurent became famous for appearing nude on the stage as Venus in La Belle Hélène. She inspired painters, writers, poets and musicians, including Edouard Manet, Stéphane Mallarmé and the musician Reynaldo Hahn.

Laurent was a keen supporter of Manet's work and encouraged people to see Le Linge and L'Artiste (Portrait de Desboutin) when they were refused by the Salon in 1876. In 1880 Manet offered her a version of L'Exécution de Maximilian. She appeared in a number of his pastels and oils.

After Manet's death, Laurent became Mallarmé's great passion, inspiring many of his poems. Through him JW became acquainted with her. In 1888 Mallarmé described Laurent to JW as 'my beautiful friend Méry' (#13436). In 1889 she became the lover of Reynaldo Hahn; the following year she was described by Mallarmé in a letter to JW as 'the most sensitive person I know' (#03792). Laurent expressed admiration for Whistler's paintings, and at some point in the late 1880s or early 1890s he sent her a reproduction of Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (YMSM 101) (#11722).

In 1894 she had her house on the Boulevard Lannes rebuilt in the Renaissance style and furnished inside in a Japoniste manner. She had verses inscribed in the stone facade, by Coppée and Mallarmé. She was immortalised by Marcel Proust as Odette in his work A la recherche du temps perdu, Un amour de Swann.


Monneret, Sophie, L'Impressionnisme et son Epoque: Dictionnaire International, 2 vols, Paris, 1979.