Saturday, 9 April 2016

Easy Virtue. Prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910

Fig.2 Bed, after 1860, painted, gilt and carved wood, Ville de Neuilly-sur-Seine. Photo: Jan-Kees Steenman

At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam a provocative exhibition on Parisian culture from the late 19th to 20th century is underway.

Fig.1 Edgar Degas, Absinthe, 1875–6, oil on canvas,
36 ¼ × 27 in., Paris, Musée d’Orsay
The Women Who Light Up the Parisian Night
The city of Paris underwent a dramatic change following the 19th century industrial revolution that improved the living environment and brought about the construction of the likes of the Paris Opera and the Eiffel Tower. Workers from all over France converged on the city to construct these magnificent buildings. And at night, those men flocked to women in search of pleasure.

At the time, Paris was full of prostitutes. The women ranged from call girls soliciting customers on the streets and in cafes to women working at brothels to high-class courtesans with homes provided by their upper class lovers. Even glamorous cabaret dancers or ballerinas at the Opera in the spotlight could be considered among them, since once their shows were over they effectively were the mistresses of their patron men.

Prostitutes From the View of the Artist
Artists took on the subject of prostitutes as a means of expression of modernité (the modern era and its culture), the term coined by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Edgar Degas painted a woman with a drink of absinthe in a café known for solicitations (fig. 1), and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso, Kees van Dongen and Frantisek Kupka all portrayed gaudily dressed women flirting with men in steamy cabarets.

Viewers are taken from the streets of Paris where men got their first glimpse of a woman or the cafes and dance halls where women sought customers, to the closed off world of brothels and other places of illicit affairs. In addition to artwork, the exhibition reveals the practical elements the women’s lives not depicted in the paintings such as a display of the bed of a high-class madam (fig. 2), small objects used by prostitutes and books to register and manage their labor.

Easy Virtue. Prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910 Until June 19

Van Gogh Museum
Museumplein 6
1071 DJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Until July 14       9:00-18:00 (Fridays until 22:00)
July 14 to Sept 4  9:00-19:00 (Fridays until 22:00 Saturdays until 21:00)
Sept 5 to Nov 6    9:00-18:00 (Fridays until 22:00)
Other dates          9:00-17:00 (Fridays until 22:00)