Édouard Manet's Woman Reading, 1897/80

Everyday Sexism at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is currently hosting a special exhibit on Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, featuring impressionist paintings alongside extant garments from the period.

Impressionist work and 19thc fashion being two of my favorite things, I went to visit the exhibit while I was in town for DjangoCon.

I’d been told the Art Institute has “substantial holdings of impressionist and related art,” and I can’t say I was disappointed. There was much geeking to be had. The dresses were great, too. I may have, on occasion, crouched down next to certain dresses to get a look at how their hems were done, or put my nose a little too close to their glass cases to be dignified.

I do, however, have a bone to pick with whoever did the descriptive placards that accompanied the artwork.

Édouard Manet's Woman Reading, 1897/80

Édouard Manet’s Woman Reading, 1879/80

Manet’s Woman Reading is one of the first paintings you see when you enter the exhibit. It depicts a woman reading a newspaper at a café.

They wouldn’t let me photograph the accompanying placard, so I copied the last sentence down by hand. It read:

These illegible calligraphic squiggles suggest that the woman is focused less on the newspaper’s printed words than on the fashion illustrations and advertisements.

…I’m not art historian, but I’m pretty sure the illegible calligraphic squiggles suggest that this is an impressionist painting.

Come on, placard-writer. The woman may be doing the 19thc equivalent of taking her laptop to a coffee shop, but even my apparently sub-literate ladybrain knows that impressionists weren’t concerned with capturing their subjects in photo-realistic detail. Manet most likely rendered the newspaper in ‘squiggles’ because that’s all he needed to give the impression of a newspaper.

Also, not for nothing, but those squiggles look way more like a rendering of a figure than of text to me. So maybe they’re ‘squiggles’ because she’s too busy reading up on the first class of female students at Oxford University to pay much attention to the advertisements.

 

2 thoughts on “Everyday Sexism at the Art Institute of Chicago

  1. j_bird

    These illegible calligraphic squiggles suggest that the woman is focused less on the newspaper’s printed words than on the fashion illustrations and advertisements.

    But wait! Her scarf is composed of a bunch of rakish brushstrokes and lacks any sharp lines to define the folds and wrinkles. The fingers of her right glove appear, on close inspection, to be melting together. By the same reasoning, this signifies her lack of interest in clothes or fashion.

    In fact, her very eyes are nothing but dark dots and faint overhanging lines. Perhaps she doesn’t exist! Perhaps nothing in the painting exists! Argh! Stop me before I art-critic again!

  2. Josie

    You’d think that the title of the painting would be a dead give away as to what part she was focused on – the words!

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