26 June 2020

Léon Édouard Koëlla

A collection of stories: weekly, we share a story around the Founder’s Collection. The month of June is dedicated to stories of children.

Édouard Manet, 'Boy Blowing Bubbles' (detail), France, 1867. Oil on canvas. Founder's Collection

Léon Leenhoff (1852-1927), also known as Léon Édouard Koëlla, was a French musician and stepson of Édouard Manet. In 1849, his mother, Suzanne, was hired by the painter’s father to teach his children piano, beginning a relationship with Édouard shortly afterwards.

There is much speculation about Léon’s birth, which happened before Suzanne and Manet were married. One of the most common theories is that the name Koëlla was invented and that the artist was his biological father; however, the shame of an illegitimate child would have resulted in the decision to hide their blood connection and raise him as Suzanne’s brother, only confirming the identity of his mother shortly before she died. Another hypothesis is that Suzanne was the lover of Édouard Manet’s father and that Léon was, in fact, the painter’s half-brother.

While Suzanne posed for Manet on several occasions, Léon was one of his favourite models and was portrayed 17 times by the painter, not just as a protagonist, but also in the background. These paintings show Manet’s stepson at different ages, starting very young, and are now distributed among various international museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

Léon sought to keep Manet’s legacy alive after his death, cataloguing his works and having them photographed, as well as organising the painter’s documents and correspondence. This record is currently held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Léon died in 1927 without issue.

In 1943, Calouste Gulbenkian bought the canvas Boy Blowing Bubbles, in which Léon appears as a teenager. It is believed that Manet took inspiration from a painting of the same name, by eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.


A Collection of Stories

A collection of stories: weekly, we share a story around the Founder’s Collection. The month of June is dedicated to stories of children.

Other stories