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Art Last Impression

3 Pages 690 Words

Gender and Genre
in Impressionist Portraiture

In the nineteenth century, the portrait form explored and celebrated the individual
as a unique and dynamic identity.
By isolating a person on the canvas, the artist recognized him as a subject with a character and will of his own. Genre, on the other hand, was the painting of social scene, a sketch of the modern metropolis, where characters represent static social 'types', rather than unique personalities. Tamar Garr's lecture gave a fascinating account of how the Impressionist artists used portraiture and genre to construct and comment on the process of constructing individual identity in relation to social expectations.
In the nineteenth century, it was widely held amongst the artistic community, that only certain individuals could be painted in portrait - namely, bourgeois, artistic or aristocratic men - as only they could be understood as dynamic 'subjects' with a sense of their own unique identity. Consider Pissaro's portrait of Cezanne, a rustic character built up through minor detail (the fragment of a radical newspaper in the background, the torn peasant clothes, the size of Cezanne's body overpowering the canvas). Or portraits of bourgeois factory owners, dressed in expensive suits and assertively facing the viewer head on. These are representations of men able to act and think independently. In comparison are the fragments of social scenes typified in Manet's 'Music Hall' (1862) or 'The Tuilleries' (1873-4) where characters fit within a wider social panorama, not examined as individuals in their own right.
Of course, such distinctions between individuals and social types were closely related to gender and the representation of women. At the risk of reciting a cliché, women were beautified 'objects' in nineteenth century art, possessing no subjectivity to be understood or explored. Women were often painted indoors, behind net curtains, or as a diminutive part of the pa...

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