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Impressionist’s Gender Roles Essay

Manet’s Olympia (circa 1863) is a classic example of the reclining nude. This appears to be a private space as there is an attending woman included in the painting. In contrast to this Berthe Morisot’s landscape painting is a public piece, depicting people on a promenade. For Manet’s painting, the viewer relates in a blatant voyeuristic way, gazing upon the nude just as the nude gazes back at the viewer in a poised repose. Morisot’s painting is striking because she depicts women out and about, not confined to a garden persey, but out in the open (two women and a small female child).

In both paintings, the women depicted appear to be of high class, since the woman in Manet’s painting has a servant and the two women in Morisot’s painting have parasols indicating that they have enough money for accoutrements. Manet’s painting is a classic gaze painting, meaning there are tones of voyeurism but that the subject gazes back at the viewer with her head held high as though she were not indeed naked. In Morisot’s painting, there is a marked distance between the subjects and the viewer allowing the viewer more freedom to gaze upon these women and their stares do not penetrate the canvas back toward the viewer.

It is interesting to note that Manet’s painting depicts a nude woman who stares blatantly back at the viewer while Morisot’s painting depicts clothed women who do note even recognize the viewer’s presence into their world. Thus, the difference between and male and female painters is taken note of in this instance: The female painter does not allow her subjects to look back while the male painter has a fully nude woman strongly gaze upon the viewer.


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