About this artwork
Paris was the undisputed artistic and cultural capital of Europe in the late 19th century; it was also home to a thriving population of prostitutes. As Hollis Clayson observed in her study of prostitution and French art, Painted Love, artists of the period, particularly the Impressionists, enthusiastically embraced the activities of these women through varying degrees of realistic imagery. The increasingly abstract depictions of prostitutes’ everyday pursuits, from bathing to entertaining clients, possessed a risky, modern, and voyeuristic flair. Artists also capitalized on the ambiguity of their subjects’ profession, as many of these women moved fluidly between being a dancer, actress, courtesan, brothel resident, street prostitute, or some combination thereof.
While Édouard Manet’s print Olympia, which reinterpreted the controversial painting of the same name (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), implies an expensive sexual transaction by emphasizing its subject’s nudity through the contrast of monochrome crosshatched lines and blank fleshy areas, Edgar Degas depicted the high-class brothel in frankly observed yet lushly colorful pastels over monotype. These works deftly reflect the inverse correlation between the amount of clothing worn by the women and the asking price for their services. On the other hand, lower-class working women were expected to be more completely dressed as well as unemotional in carrying out their perfunctory duties, as seen in Albert Bertrand’s shadowed, cleavage-proffering Street Walker. The provocatively bared buttocks and infantalizing pigtails in Félicien Rops and Jean Louis Forain’s prints underscore the expensive preference for presumed virgins in many of the most refined brothels. These deluxe establishments would double their earnings in 1878 during the Paris Exposition Universelle.
Currently Off View
- Prints and Drawings
- Jean Louis Forain
- Rejected Frontispiece for Marthe
- Etching and aquatint in black on ivory laid paper
- 145 × 95 mm (image); 148 × 100 mm (plate); 325 × 247 mm (sheet)
- Gift of Mr. Frank B. Hubachek