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Portrait of Émilie Ambre as Carmen

Édouard Manet, French, 1832 - 1883

A celebrity in her day, Émilie Ambre came from a wealthy North African family and was the mistress of King William III of the Netherlands prior to pursuing a career as an opera singer. Édouard Manet painted Ambre in the summer of 1880 at a spa outside Paris where he was seeking treatment for recurring leg and chest pain. In Manet’s portrait, the singer appears in the role of Carmen, the tragic heroine of Georges Bizet’s opera of the same name. Set in Seville, Carmen tells the story of a fiery Spanish gitana who compels her lover into a life of crime and is stabbed by him in a jealous rage when he discovers her affair with a matador. Ambre’s lacy mantilla, bolero jacket, and fan are rapidly sketched in broad, assured brushstrokes that signal Manet’s own bravura performance, while the harsh side lighting suggests the stage.


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