In 1899, while examining Edouard Manet’s Jeune femme voilée at the home of the collector Charles Deudon (1832–1914), Pierre-Auguste Renoir alluded to an “ugly veiled woman” without identifying her (letter dated February 5, 1899 to Paul Durand-Ruel). Renoir did not recognized his close friend Berthe Morisot, who had passed away three years earlier. Yet in 1883 this portrait, which was still in Manet’s studio at the time of his death, was recorded by the auctioneers Chevallier and Lesueur and the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel as “Made Morisot femme voilée” (Estate inventory of Edouard Manet, Étude de Maître Cotelle, Archives Nationales).
At the sale of the content of Manet’s studio (Paris, Drouot, February 4–5, 1884), the Jeune femme voilée (n°30 in the catalogue) had become anonymous, a precaution deemed necessary to prevent Morisot from becoming the object of the painting’s bidding. The auction house’s cataloguer used the same discretion by withholding the names of other models whose portraits were to be sold on February 4 and 5.
Lacking the appeal that a painted visage can entice, the veiled woman did not pique the interest of its viewers, and was omitted by the sale’s commentators. The painting was sold for 240 francs to Charles Deudon, a rather mediocre price in light of the 1,250 francs Deudon paid for a pastel representing the gracious profile of a young woman he later gave to his cousin (Denis Rouart et Daniel Wildenstein, Édouard Manet. Catalogue raisonné, tome II: Pastels, aquarelles et dessins (Paris-Lausanne: La Bibliothèque des arts, 1975), n° 19). Manet’s Jeune femme voilée however remained in the collection of Charles Deudon until his death in spite of Paul Durand-Ruel’s multiple attempts to purchase some of the collector’s masterpieces. Durand-Ruel even sent Renoir to meet Deudon in his home in Nice, who he described as “not willing to sell anything despite attractive offers” (Renoir’s letter to Paul Durand-Ruel, March 20, 1899). Deudon’s collection was eventually bought in 1919 by the Parisian dealer Paul Rosenberg.
In Portrait de Berthe Morisot à l’éventail, Manet also rendered the identification of his model difficult. Instead of the gauze and lace of a veil, Manet used the crescent shape of a fan to obscure the young woman’s features.