An engaging gaze, a wink of the eye, and an enticing touch were all subtle indications that a woman in 19th-century Paris might be looking for more than just a drink. Viewed through the artist’s eyes, subjects exploring prostitution and streetwalking take center stage at the Musee d’Orsay.
Although the subject matter may shock or offend, the exquisite artistry and blockbuster names should be enough to draw big crowds to the Musee d’Orsay, Paris. “Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution 18501910” is on view now and presents a staggering array of artworks in a variety of styles and mediums exploring the taboo- but-popular profession in Paris during the 19th century. In its many guises, prostitution flourished in Paris and quickly became an enduring obsession among novelists, poets, playwrights, composers, painters, and sculptors. As a result, a large number of artworks survive from the period displaying the promiscuous subjects.

Gustav-Adolf Mossa, “She,” 1905, oil on canvas, (c) ADAGP, Paris 2015

Featuring works from the academy, Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and more, the exhibition offers a full range of tantalizing works, some of which may not be appropriate for children — a warning posted prominently on the exhibition’s website.

James Tissot, “The Shop Girl,” ca. 1883-1885, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 146 cm. (c) Art Gallery of Ontario 2015

Featured names include Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Giovanni Boldini, James Tissot, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Gervex, Edgar Degas, Edvard Munch, and many more.

Andre Derain, “Woman in a Chemise or Dancer,” 1906, oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm. (c) ADAGP, Paris 2015

“Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution 1850-1910” opened on September 22 and will be on view through January 17.
To learn more, visit the Musee d’Orsay.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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