Sexual Healing

In the Victorian Period, women were trapped in a social structure that reinforced what we now call the 'Angel/Whore Dichotomy'. This dichotomy held that women had to be perfectly virtuous, demure wives and homemakers (Angels in the House) or they were essentially whores; if they were to admit to having the same feelings or desires as men of the period, they were shunned by society. Thus an important aspect of the movement to recognize the agency of women was to admit that humans are by nature sexual beings and that having sexual desires is not anything women ought to be punished for. This was done—controversially, of course—through art. However, there became a point at which artists overshot the mark: rather than presenting women as persons with sexual agency, they came to be presented as sexual fetish objects in the name of 'women's liberation'. This is a problem still rampant in our contemporary culture; girls are daily bombarded with the idea that it is "empowering" to be sexualized. This gallery seeks to demonstrate the difference between women that are presented as humans with sexual desires and as sexual objects.

This piece appears to stand in between the two ends of the sexual versus sexualized spectrum. The woman is in a sensual pose but her gaze is strong; she is aware of desirability but in control of herself and sexuality. However, one should pause at the title of the piece. Where are the lemons? Clearly the lemons are the woman's breasts; suddenly she is produce, to be sold or consumed. De Torres's intention in this piece was to paint a traditional still life, but using a woman as a backdrop to create sensuality and feeling. The oranges are the focal point and "protagonist" of the painting, the woman is only a sculptural background element. This piece not only showcases clearly a reduction of women to sexual objects, but also shows a deliberate removal of agency common in contemporary advertising.
This piece and de Torres' piece go hand in hand; the comparison between the woman's breast, which compositionally is where the eye is first drawn, and the egg is clear. However, at first one wonders is her breast is the egg, since it shares the shape of a fried egg and the actual fried eggs are small and in the corner, secondarily seen. This painting showcases a few elements present in the trend of sexualizing women in art that de Torres's piece lacks. The colors are somewhat sickly and the woman's positioning suggests helplessness. Her expression is pained and she is 'naked' rather than nude, often a distinction made to show the crudeness or depravity of the subject. This woman, again, is something to be used or consumed. She looks as though she already has been.
In contrast, Carrillo's piece presents a woman as sexual but predominantly as a person. Predominantly this is done through the close-up detail of her face, but even without this feature she would stand apart from the the subjects of de Torres and Freud. Her stance is similar to de Torres's woman, but rather than a sexually inviting pose accompanied with goods supported around her breasts, it is a stance of control and self-assuredness. It is stable. Her arms are behind her, but not in a way that appears restrained. Her gaze is stable. This stands in contrast to the helplessness of Freud's subject. If any part of her body is emphasized it is her thighs rather than her breasts, which are not overly curvy or sensuous, but speak to her power.
This piece is often presented with the works of Gustav Klimt as furthering the cause of women's liberation. Schiele has a myriad of works that present women in a derogatory way, though they claim otherwise. This piece shows exactly where the cause to present female sexuality fails: she is sexual without agency. She appears ready to be dominated. The colors of the painting are harsh, she appears bruised or bloody. Her face is obscured and definitely not the focal point of the piece. Note her hands: they are tangled up away from her body. Her hands are not tied, but they are in the position to be.
This piece is the first of two counterparts to Schiele's: the woman in this piece is wearing the same boots and Schiele's subject, her face is obscured and her back and rear end are the focus of the painting. However, this woman is not fetishized or helpless like Schiele's. She is sitting up, reading a book, her legs secured on the desk. The colors of the piece are bright, warm, and rich. There is no wanness or colors of pain. Although the woman's face is obscured, her head is the focal point. Delauney's use of color and shape are sometimes referred to as cosmic and luminous; this woman glows. She is the subject reading. In Schiele's piece, the woman is the object waiting.
This piece is significant to this gallery because it predicts and answers an objection. Does a woman have to be stocky and standing like an Olympic athlete or doing something non-sexual such as reading or drying her hair (as in Degas drawings) in order to not be sexualized? Rodin would say no; the woman in this piece is overtly sexual. Her back is arched, her breasts prominent and her body is soft and rounded. She looks up, lost in thought or feeling. She does not make eye contact with the viewer, inviting them to interact with her sexuality. She is lost in herself. Her arms are thrown up and behind her, adding to the dynamism of her seated pose. She showcases the inherent beauty of female sexuality without being reduced to something to use. Her form, movement, and expression do not seem created expressly for the male gaze.
In comparison with Rodin's Seated Nude, everything in this piece is wrong. The bright red colors draw us to the girls raw, probably post-crying eyes, and up her skirt to her genitalia. This girl, not a woman, is first seen as pain and a sexual organ. She, like Schiele's other piece, seems to have already been abused. She also prefigures the up-the-skirt advertisement seen in the video on objectification of women in advertising. The placement of her arms, in contrast to Rodin, demonstrate a lack of agency or choice in the presentation of her sexuality. This painting is described as a girl's erotic dream; it seems closer to the truth to say this is man's dream of what a girl's erotic dream would be. This painting is not empowering or enlightening to female sexualization; it is the reduction of women's liberation to male fetishization.
The final piece of this gallery combines the elements necessary to the presentation of women as sexual persons in art. She is a beautiful woman and her form is definitely sexual. However, her position is one of agency. She is not currently doing anything, merely showcasing the beauty and sexuality of the female form, but she could be. She is aware of the viewer but does not acknowledge them; her identity does not depend upon being viewed. This piece is especially powerful because her legs are apart, culturally a raunchy position (as seen in Schiele). Kolbe transforms this position into one that is filled with potential. The woman is at "Rest" but she is about to get up.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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