Domestic Scenes

Edgar Degas
The Belleli Family 1858-59
Degas, in this early painting of his relatives, clearly shows who rules the house in this scene.  The mother, in black, towers over the picture, she is looking away and beyond us, into the future.  Forming a strong, triangular composition, are her two daughters, dressed in black and white, one facing towards us, the other one, like her mom, facing into the future.  This powerful "trinity" of women commands this domestic scene.  The man in the back, presumably the woman's husband, is in the foreground, bent away from the viewer.  His head turns shyly towards the towering triangle of women. His attire blends with the rug, so that he is almost camouflaged in the back.  Such a statement is not unusual for Degas, where he is likely to put the woman in a couple towering in the foreground with her partner in the background.  This powerful view of women was unusual for the Salon, particularly in a non-heroic, domestic setting.

Edgar Degas
The Rape 1875

Degas highlights the somber room with a bright light shining on the open box on the table and the back of a woman crouching, her dress torn to expose her left shoulder.  Some sources suggest that this painting was not about a rape, but about a novel published by Zola, in which the woman asks her lover to kill her husband, so that they can elope. 

Degas uses a skewed perspective to give the room an eerie feeling.  The standing, towering male, is ominously in the dark, obstructing any entrance into, or exit from the room.  The bed could be interpreted as a sexual symbol. The woman is bent in a vulnerable position, her head turned away from the viewer.  It is unlikely that the Salon would have accepted such a lurid, realist scene.

Edouard Manet
The Balcony 1868-1869

Manet's painting, The Balcony, set the scene to show women in their domestic setting wanting to break out.  Manet paints Morisot, the woman seated in the foreground, with passion and intensity.  He is expressing her sexuality and at the same time as he represents its containment. She is seen with a fan in her hand rather than a palette.  Manet paints her with visual pleasure and as though he does not have to deal with her conflicts of being a woman and a painter. 

The balcony in the picture could symbolize the gate that keeps both Morisot and her girl friend behind the bars of domesticity.  Behind is a patriarchal figure, towering over the two woamen, so that they are caught between patriarchy behind them, and the bars of domesticity in front of them. However, both of them look out of the house, into the street, into freedom.


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