“She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.” – Mark Twain
The theme of a woman and her parrot-confidante has literary and pictorial antecedents. But this picture, for which Victorine Meurent posed in 1866, was probably Manet’s answer to Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, exhibited in the Salon of 1866. When Manet’s picture was shown in the Salon of 1868, one critic wrote that “he has borrowed the parrot from his friend Courbet and placed it on a perch next to a young woman in a pink peignoir. These realists are capable of anything!” Most critics ignored the subject, however, in favor of ridiculing Manet’s “present vice … a sort of pantheism in which the head is esteemed no more than a slipper.” The picture was exhibited on three occasions during Manet’s lifetime.
Critics eyed the painting as a rejoinder to Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot (29.100.57) and as indicative of Manet’s “current vice” of failing to “value a head more than a slipper.” Recent scholars have interpreted it as an allegory of the five senses: the nosegay (smell), the orange (taste), the parrot-confidant (hearing), and the man’s monocle she fingers (sight and touch)
If a dog man’s best friend, the African Grey is a lady’s confidante.