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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Modern Women meet Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris

I attended an all women's college, Converse College, in Spartanburg, SC.  This school opened in 1889 when women had as few rights and choices as African Americans at the time.  I started my freshman year in 1989 - one hundred years later.  Then, I had no real understanding of what being a woman entailed, what hurdles I would face later in life.

I found the beautifully eerie exhibition at The Hammer Museum, Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914, to be especially poignant.  Focusing on morphine use during La Belle Epoch is quite mesmerizing, but focusing on women's use during the time is both alluring and sad.  I learned that women were the majority of morphine users, while most of the artists during the time were men depicting these women.  There is only one female artist in the exhibition, Mary Cassatt; her Tea drypoint of a woman listlessly drinking tea in her own self-induced haze.  The connection between suffering prostitutes and high society ladies is clearly drawn, and it's something for us all to consider as women.  Class only separates us with brick and mortar.
Profil de lumi√®re (Profile of light) 1886
Odilon Redon
Au bar (At the bar) 1897
Georges Alfred Bottini
*society ladies at the bar - something most of us can relate to
Ces dames des chars a l'hippodrome 1883-85
The ladies of the chariots at the hippodrome
James Tissot
*an image of the "modern woman" wearing headdresses similar to our own Lady Liberty by
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
Mary Cassatt in the Louvre Museum of Antiquities 1879-80
Edgar Degas
Tea 1890
Mary Cassatt
*I just love the depiction of Cassatt by Degas compared to Cassatt's depiction of a woman having tea,
 stoned in her own world
Rayons de chaussures (The shoe department) 1895
*unfortunately this shop girl and many like her could not afford to live on their wages alone, so often they doubled as prostitutes - this unknowing wife engages with the shop girl as she is most likely making another "sale" with the husband.  again, the line of class divided in such a sad way for women.
The Moulin Rouge 1895
Eugene Delatre
*the forlorn prostitute on the streets of Paris in the rain
Morphinomane (Morphine addict) 1897
Eugene Grasset
*perhaps the most gruesome of the show, a woman numbing herself for reasons unknown - most likely a prostitute blocking the reality of her life.  at the time morphine could be smoked, drunk or injected
Now, at 42 years old with an almost 12-year-old daughter, I am only beginning to understand the importance of women's relationships.  Not only about fun, shopping and gabbing (though those things I most certainly do appreciate), women need to support one another no matter the differences we have.  While mildly down after seeing the exhibition (even with the lovely pastel walls and serene quality to the gallery), I was also inspired.  Inspired to understand that we as women should respect and support.  And I had a true realization of how far we have come as women and how much further we have to go in regards to the treatment of our own gender.  La Belle Epoque, The Beautiful Era, may not have been as beautiful as we think.  I look forward to our own era of true equality for women and watching our daughters enter a truly beautiful world.  Shoes and all.

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