Edouard Manet’s ‘The Fifer’ was created in 1866 and is an artwork depicting a young boy, assumed to be Victorine Meurent with a hat on her head. Manet’s model had recently posed for the painting of both Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass, both museums of Musée d’Orsay located in Paris. However, in this painting, Victorine appears much more demure wearing a silk dressing gown.
Critics noted that The Fifer could be perceived as a reply or counter art to Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot (1870) as it contrasts strongly against it in terms of the background and how the woman is presented. With Manet paving the way with his painting during this period, ‘The Fifer’ was seen as a social commentary on gender role and power among other things. Even though the boy is dressed up as an adult playing his fifer, he more modestly dressed than Menurent pre-Olympia painting almost could be seen abstractly as denying an certain aspect of femininity that has traditionally been attributed to women, such as sexuality.
To fully understand how revolutionary Manet’s work truly are, it’s important to consider his second great painting – The Balcony (1868-69). In contrast to ‘The Fifer’, The Balcony features three woman – Victorine Meurent included once again – dressed up in costume for dinner, implying luxurious education yet also allowing their clothing to suggest freedom and autonomy in all their bodies and mind. More than just producing artwork worthy of Museum walls today, Manet revolutionized how we think about gender roles through his pieces he building during 1866-69.