Édouard Manet. Woman in a Bathtub. 1878-79.pastel on paper 55×45cm. Musee d’Orsay, Paris.
Méry Laurent was the model for Odette, the actress who married Swann in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. She also was Manet’s lover and muse for a time, when she modeled for this pastel.
Jeffrey Meyers writes in Impressionist Quartet (p. 79):
Manet met Méry in 1876 and was irresistibly attracted to her sensuality, coquettishness and occasional vulgarity. He had an afffair with her before passing her on to Mallarmé. Méry inspired Manet, who said he’d like to paint her in a plein air Impressionist style: “What I’ve always longed to do would be to place women like you in green outdoor settings, among flowers, on beaches, where contours are eaten away in the open air, and everything melts and mingles in the bright light of day, because I can assure you I’m not just an insensitive brute” — interested only in sleeping with her. She modeled for three important late works: Autumn (1881), Woman in Furs: Portrait of Méry Laurent (1882) and the Degas-like pastel, Woman in the Tub (1878-79). The last work, in which Méry leans over and sponges herself as the water runs daintily down her left leg, “presents all the characteristic features of Manet’s art: a very special blend of spontaneity and freshness … with rigorous composition and a taste for clear curved lines across horizontals that subdivide the background of the picture: mirror, dressing table, flowered cretonne in subtly colored folds …. The woman posing looks at the artist unafraid, confident that her nude body, though imperfect, encounters a friendly and indulgent gaze.” 5 During Manet’s last illness, Méry, always sympathetic and attentive, tried to distract and amuse him. She sent him flowers and sweets, and the luscious tangerines he painted in A Bar at the Folies-Bergsère. After his death she always brought the first white lilacs of the season to his grave.