Introduction to analysis of 3 paintings that reflect the influence of political, social and economic changes on the perception of women in the 19th Century

Before I start the formal analysis I wanted to ‘introduce’ each painting and my reasons for choosing it. The object of the analysis is to examine the influence of political, economic or social on the perception of women in the 19th Century and so my choices I wanted to vary in their subject and the social standing of either the women or the artist.

IMG_6308The first is one I saw just this past week in Kedleston Hall – that by Alexandre Cabanel  of Mary Victoria Leiter. 1887.  Oil on canvas. Size is 51 x 37 inches (129.5 x 94 cm).  Mary Leiter later became Lady Curzon and Vicereen of India.  The reason I choose this one first of all was due to it being in the ownership of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire and I have been able to study it at relatively close quarters.

Alexandre Cabanel was a French painter born in 1823 and not to parents who could afford the artist training that would have nurtured his clear talent but his departmente in France gave him the grant to go to Paris to study.  Eventually he came to the attention of wealthy Americans who collected his historical paintings and as he was also a renowned portrait artist he became the painter of choice for those who wished to portray an aristocratic image that matched their wealth.

degas and balletThe Dance Class by Edgar Hiliare  Degas – 1874. Oil on canvas. Size 32 7/8 x 30 3/8 inches (83.5 x 77.2 cm).  Edward Degas is considered part of the Impressionist movement but he preferred to be known as either a Realist or Independent.  I am a ballet lover but my favourite videos are those that show rehearsals or behind the scenes as I am fascinated and in awe of the work that goes in to creating a seemless production of grace and movement and it is for this sole reason I felt drawn to consider this image of women.  Ultimately ballerinas are considered very feminine women but also known to be supremely fit and obviously flexible.  Edward Degas was not a painter of landscapes but one who sought scenes of urban life which he painted from the confines of his studio rather than in the open air.  Degas was also fascinated with the human body and liked to use the artificial lights of theatres or cafes and bars which enabled him to capture the contours of the figure in tune with his Academic training and the dancers he captured in fleeting moments were of constant fascination to him. Degas was born into a moderately wealthy family and after a period at law school at the insistence of his father and grandfather eventually enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts after meeting Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who encouraged his drawing.

bar at the folies begereFinally the last painting is by Eduoard Manet of the Bar at the Folies-Bergere – this is referred to in World History of Art.  Oil on canvas. Size:  37.8 x 51.2 inches (96 x 130 cm). 1882.    Eduoard Manet is of the Impressionist movement and right at the beginning where the transition between Realism and Impressionism is just beginning to really happen.  and this painting is clearly of an urban scene so popular with the style.  The barmaid is clearly a working class woman and is depicted staring out of the canvas with the mirror reflecting the bar in front of her.  Crucially to my analysis the artist is from a wealthy bourgeois family and like Degas rejected the wishes of his political family to study art – I say ‘crucially’ because for me I have 3 different artists of the same period who  came from different tiers of the social strata which was held in vital importance in France at the time – Cabanel was not from a family who could afford art school and had to have a grant to enable him to fulfill his artistic promise, Degas was from a middle class family who wanted him to have  respectable career in law but he eventually dismissed law school to study art and finally Manet was from an upper class household who again wanted him to become a lawyer or a career equally respectable but choose to follow his talent.

The women I have decided to refer directly to in my analysis but the status of the artists has a direct bearing on how they are portrayed.



A&E Television Networks. 2016. Edouard Manet Biography [online].  Available from:

ArtMagick. 1996-2015.  Alexandre Cabanel [online]. Available from:

Encyclopedia of Art Education. [no date].  A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-2) [online].  Available from:

Hamilton, A. 2015. Manet and woman: Portraying Life [online]. Available from:

Musee d’Orsay. 2016. Edgar Degas The Ballet Class [online].  Available from:

National Trust Images. [no date]. Mary Victoria Leiter, Lady Curzon (1870-1906) [online]. Available from:

Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. 2016.  Alexandre Cabanel’s Portraits of the American ‘Aristocracy’ of the Early Gilded Age [online].  Available from:–alexandre-cabanels-portraits-of-the-american-aristocracy-of-the-early-gilded-age

Social Classes – Paris in the 19th Century. [no date]. Social Classes [online].  Available from:

Spalding, F. 2015. The French Connection:  how Manet changed the face of British Art [online]. Available from:

The Art Story Foundation. 2016.  Eduoard Manet French Draughtsman and Painter [online]. Available at:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2016.  The Dance Class [online]. Available at:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2016. Edgar Degas (1834-1917):  Painting and Drawing [online].  Available from:

Trachtman, P. 2003. Degas and his Dancers [online].  Available from:

Victoria and Albert Museum. 2016.  Romantic Ballet [online].  Available from:

Wolin, E. 2013. Degas: Agency in Images of Women [online]. Available from: 2002-2016.  Dance Class I Edgar Degas [online].  Available from:

http://www.Manet.Org. 2010. Edouard Manet and his paintings [online].  Available from:

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