|Abstract||Jeanne Duval (c. 1820–1871) was the famous poet Charles Baudelaire's longtime romantic partner and the inspiration behind some of his most famous writings. Duval and Baudelaire were together, if episodically, for two decades, but after Baudelaire’s death in 1867, biographers were quick to cast Duval as a femme fatale responsible for Baudelaire’s downfall or expunge her from Baudelaire’s life altogether. Documentation of Duval’s life is scant, and the archive contains no trace of her voice through journals, letters, or interviews. Yet, Duval’s story continues to intrigue us. Contemporary artists and writers continue to produce work inspired by her.
So how can we understand Jeanne Duval, this understudied, ignored, and degraded partner and muse who inspired Baudelaire’s poetry? In my thesis, I use visual depictions of Duval to investigate how she becomes a signifier for exoticism, working women, and modernity in nineteenth-century France. Through visual analysis of the only known depictions of Duval: four drawings by Baudelaire and a painting titled Baudelaire’s Mistress by the famous realist painter Édouard Manet, my research uncovers how significant Duval was to Baudelaire and Manet’s artistic output.