Friday, July 31, 2015

Even in the Art World, Sexism is Pervasive


One of my favorite paintings at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the portrait of Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d'Ognes. (It's also one of the Met's most popular works.) At the time it was acquired, it was believed to be a painting by the famed French painter Jacques-Louis David. It was described, by art critics, as one of David's lost masterpieces. The sitter's classical white tunic, Grecian curls, spartan setting, and masculine brush stoke could only have been painted by David. 

But in 1951, it was determined that it had actually been painted by a woman named Marie Denise Villers. Once the painting was attributed to a woman and not David, its monetary value plummeted and critics began to reevaluate its merit, ascribing "feminine attributes" to the image. As one critic put it, "its very evident charms, and cleverly concealed weakness, its ensemble made up from thousands of subtle attitudes, all seem to reveal the feminine spirit."

When one thinks of the art world , one generally thinks of a place of openness and tolerance--yet as this assessment of Villers's work illustrates, this is hardly the case. Sadly, the 'art world' shares the same prejudices and stereotypes we see in the real world. Forms of sexism still dominate our culture whether it be in art or the world at large. 

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