Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Fallen Women of Felicien Rops

I am always perplexed when I hear people say that the Victorian period was a time of prudishness or priggery, because really, there was a proliferation of "sexual perversity" in the literature and art of the 1800's. If you doubt this, a great introduction to the Victorian's obsession with sex is Michel Foucault's informative book, "History of Sexuality." A rather curious example of this sex-obsession can be seen in the art work of Belgian artist Felicien Rops, whose images of women both terrify and intrigue me. Rops was greatly influenced by the writing and ideas of Charles Baudelaire, and he was obviously a man who had experienced the seedier side of life and became possessed by its allure as well as its pitfalls. Rops was a painter of fallen women, evil women, seductive women, deadly women...



I don't know why I haven't discussed Rops sooner, because his drawing above ["The Absinthe Drinker, 1865] is one of my favorite all-time images. The girl in the picture is just mesmerizing -- somehow, despite the fact that she is obviously intended to look pale and ill from her addiction [and undoubtedly she is a prostitute], she is also completely alluring and seductive. It is also no accident, I think, that she looks vaguely vampiric.



According to Mario Praz, "[Rops] object...was to portray Evil incarnate in woman -- a portrayal which Rops intended to be satirical, but which, owing to his excessive complaisance with the subject, he could not raise above the level of mere illustration, often pornographic."



I'm not certain how satirical Rops intended his images to be [or if he was just simply a misogynist], but it is interesting that Praz claims that Rops was somehow not able to raise his art work to a higher level because he was "complaisant" about the depiction of women...

Ironically, MANY paintings and illustrations during the 1800's represented women as sexual, dangerous, and seductive. I see Rops as someone who was trying to peel away the layer of falsity and academic seriousness in the art world, and take these ideas to their obvious and extreme end. His images are almost always borderline [if not all-out] pornographic. He challenged the viewer to be seduced by the eroticism of his images, while also being revolted by them...



Despite the fact that he does not portray women in a positive light, he manages to raise interesting questions about the representations of women also present in more popular art works of the time -- particularly those by the Pre-Raphaelites. I love the Pre-Raphaelites, don't get me wrong, but they were just as guilty as Rops of perpetuating images of women as beautiful, yet always perpetually immoral creatures.



Rops' no-nonsense approach is what draws me to him. His images are not traditionally beautiful and his women are not worthy of emulation -- they are naughty and debased. But they also tell us a lot about the ways that women have been perceived in culture and remind us of the importance of having a critical eye about art, even when the aesthetic is so mesmerizing that it makes us momentarily forget...


For more of his amazing images, check out Arterotismo.
Has anyone ever been to the Rops museum in Belgium? If so, I would LOVE to hear about it...

10 comments:

~ ennui ~ said...

just love this blog....found you via Poke Salad Annie.

[Tara] said...

ennui -- So glad you stopped by!! Loose Leaf Tigers is an amazing blog!

Sam said...

Fantastic post! Thank you so much for introducing me to this amazing artist! By the way, I am with you vis a vis the Victorians and this imagined prudishness they had - when I heard that they covered up piano legs for modesty reasons I thought something was going on!

psrock said...

The sauciness of the women is not dissimilar to the work of Australian artist, Norman Lindsay...

http://www.norman-lindsay.com.au/art/lindsay_nlfe_sold_out.html

I'm proud owner of a facsimile print of 'Sortie' - scrummy!

[Tara] said...

psrock -- thanks for pointing me to the Norman Lindsay works! So gorgeous!!! I might have to do a post about these soon.

Mary-Laure said...

Terrific post! I agree, the Victorian age was much more complex and perverse than most people think. I find it fascinating.

psrock said...

So glad you liked...Lindsay's work is so magnificent! Although of course he did have his critics in his day.

And it seems censorship is still alive and well...I grabbed the vampire Rops pic and uploaded it to my photobucket profile...intending to use it on my myspace in future, only to find it had 'violated' their terms of service....prudes and wowsers!

xJade

Pandora said...

Thank your for that post, I really adore Rops.
His work his very representative of the vision of women at the end of the 19th century. They were seen as evil, dangerously powerful, with a raw sensuality.

I've read a fascinating book about this subject, you MUST read it because it's really amazing :
Idols of Perversity:
Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-si├Ęcle Culture (1986) by Bram Dijkstra.

Oh and by the way, I'm thinking more and more about doing that Castiglione inspirated shoot.

xx

okiefeminist said...

WOW...the one of the working mom (i presume) wiping the kid's nose backstage or in her dressing room or whatever with the joker peeping through the curtains! fucking awesome!

~M~ said...

I'm excited to discover this great artist, thank you for introducing!
It is always very interesting to see Victorians ideas and views on sex and women. Yes it may be prudish and priggery, but it also tells me how people were sensitive to these matters and how they try to control or idealize eroticism and sexuality. Now we are all exposed to sex, violence, excitements and extremes on films, art, music etc. that we take anything and everything for granted, often affirmative in a false way, that we have lost sensitivity in many ways.