Between 1879 and 1882, Manet produced a stunning series of pastel portraits of women. This medium offered him freshness, lively colour and a powdered material that flattered the face more than paint. The beautiful people of high society or the demi-monde were delighted with their portraits. The artist also aimed to challenge the great society portraitists then in fashion, such as Charles Chaplin.
Manet chose to have his lady friends pose in their most elegant clothes, often wearing a large dark hat or toque, and would surround their pale complexion with black. Whereas Degas used pastel in the same way as a classical portrait painter, his desire to reflect the personality of the model was not found in Manet's work. He painted his pastel portraits of the ladies who came to his studio as he would flowers, concentrating on their beauty and elegance.
Here Irma Brunner embodies all the elegance of the 1880s, which she radiates in abundance. Manet chooses a decorative style that also recalls the Italian portraits of the 15thcentury. Everything is contrasted and outlined: the profile of her face and velvety black hair, her pink blouse standing out against the grey background. The touch of red on her lips spices up and adds a certain piquancy to this elegant harmony.