Women, objects of desire plagued by the male gaze
The male gaze
Historically speaking, the typical viewer of artwork was male. The term ‘male gaze’ has been a subject of much debate by art historians and has been use in Freudian and feminist contexts to describe the sexual objectification of women in fine art as well as other various media outlets.
Most depictions of the female in paintings throughout history have been commissioned and painted by men for the pleasure of other men thus leading to the ‘male gaze’. Since women throughout most of history have been subjugated, kept illiterate and treated as property of their fathers and husbands, they have learned to be acutaly aware of that gaze. To quote some of Berger’s comments from the book Ways of Seeing:
“She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as success in her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another…”
This display of the female physique for the pleasure of the male viewer especially in the visual-hungry culture of the nineteenth century has thus turned the female nude into an object of desire.
Born on the 23 January 1832, in Paris France into an upper class household with strong political connections, Édouard Manet became one of the most influential Realist and Impressionist artists of the 19th century.
At a young age Manet rejected his fathers wishes for him to follow in his footsteps and enter into a career in law, instead Manet wanted to engrossed himself in the world of painting.
His work is considered 'early modern', partially because of the black outlining of figures, which draws attention to the surface of the picture plane and the material quality of paint. From 1850 to 1856, Manet studied under the academic painter Thomas Coutrue. In 1856, Manet opened a studio, at this time his style of painting was characterized by loose brush strokes, simplified details and the suppression of transitional tones.
Two of his most famous work include, Luncheon on the Grass 1862-18633 and Olympia 1863. Both of these paintings raised the issue of prostitution within France and the roles of women within society at this period of time.
Artworks to discuss
oil on canvas
The Luncheon on the Grass, 1862-1863
Oil on canvas
208 cm x 265.5 cm