Women’s History Month! Mary Cassatt’s ‘In the Loge’

Hi folks, about time I posted something new I think? My technical issues with broken tablets have been sorted – I have picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 which does all I need to write on here. Note this week there are no Photoshopped, cartoonized pictures as I am including some bona fide art, and it seemed a shame to mess with it.
A quick word, a few weeks back I did outline the basics of the story of the Profumo affair – then Woman’s history month happened and I thought “great, Christine Keeler was such a fascinating character!” I won’t spoil the story to those of you who don’t know it, but the Police tweeting about a female police officer running a Japanese internment camp in World War 2 made me second guess myself a little. I then got a little distracted with Leaving Neverland (cause, let’s face it either you were caught up in it, or caught up in telling people how you weren’t going to watch it earlier this week right? Ok maybe just me?)

THEN I scribbled down a piece on how Mary Cassatt’s (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) 1878 painting “In the Loge” captured an element of the zeitgeist of Modernism- the artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where an industrialising, urbanizing world in flux began to challenge traditional ideas, became more self- referential, and began to believe the world is what we choose to make of it. Art became more about capturing the mood of the occasion, and interested in reflecting a modern world where it was increasingly important to be out and about so as to see and be seen. My interest in the painting, a lady modelled on her sister, Lydia, peers across the theater with her binoculars (she is at the opera house, where Parisians go to see and be seen) clearly not at the stage but at someone out of our view- another attendee. In the background a man with binoculars is ogling her as intently as she is ogling her subject.

At the time of my first exposure to this painting, an Art History lecturer told an 18 year old me, the painting caused an uproar because- how dare a woman set her gaze on another – women are to be looked at, and not to be the lookers. I don’t think pervy guy in the background is held up to such scrutiny. We ourselves sandwich poor Lydia by staring at the painting from the other direction. We may have stopped by that same day to see a Manet street scene, where generally people are there to be seen – unless we came across Olympia, a reclining nude who, unnervingly eyeballs us back, having caused a similar outcry, or taken a Lydia-esque stop at a Degas, to watch the ballerinas- who definitely were to be seen, and not to gaze.

This painting should beg questions of anyone either angered with, or flummoxed by the anger towards a recent Gillette commercial- How far the world in general has come, but how little some of us have changed. I had a whole bit on how in this time women were making steps towards independence- the industrial revolution led to then record numbers of women entering the workforce – admittedly often in poorly paid jobs – from teaching to heavy work like being ‘hurriers’ in coal mines, from factory workers to the ‘hawkers’ (sorry for a possibly derogatory term these days) selling goods in bars and footpaths, often pictured in paintings by fellow impressionists Manet, Degas, and other men – but not so much our heroine Mary Cassatt- as someone of a gender which typically was less accepted gazing where she saw fit, most of her snapshots of Parisian Modernism are in the confines of the opera house… It seems to me sometimes progress can find itself waylaid by the silliest of squabbles.

Where this one hit speed wobbles a little, in the wee small hours last night I am having a bit of a look online for some more info on Cassatt, and the ‘Gillette ad’ reaction to her painting… Now I believe my art history lecturer. I can imagine the backlash, who in this age can’t? Did the internet come through with some crazy statistics about the backlash? In a word, no. I believe this has much more to do with finding a pothole in the information superhighway than it never happening. At some point I will take myself down to the Auckland University library, dig out a book on Mary Cassatt, and go old school on this. Expect some foot marked addition to this post some time. How far the internet has come, how little some parts have changed?

For your enjoyment I have posted Mary Cassatt’s In the Loge. I haven’t posted Manet’s Olympia, sooner or later I will piss off someone on a forum and I could see them reporting this post for posting nudity or something and I may as well save myself the bother, but she is worthy of both seeing and being seen.

Mary Cassatt, self portrait.

Oh I have a complete piece on Tamar, Golden age ruler of Georgia to drop Friday, and plan to FINALLY record some podcast scripts tomorrow night.

Published March 13th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

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