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More About Middle Class Women

The nineteenth century brought on increasing democratization to the middle class culture with the burgeoning of wealth and prosperity. In art we see images of women in their new public and private environments as depicted by Realists, Romanticist, Symbolists and the Impressionists. Nineteenth century saw artists turning away from painting historical subjects that dominated the eighteenth century and begining to depict images of the public as they enjoy the outdoors and the domestic spaces. This modern life attracted artists and writers and the new bourgeoisie who were all drawn into the streets and parks, the cafes and restaurants. Nineteenth century Paris was also the intellectual center of modernity and artists were among the first to embrace this new movement with their artistic interpretations along with literary groups. The new trend of reality based artistic subjects represented intimate spaces and environments of the new middle class bourgeoisie society of merchants, bankers and artists.

New groups of artists who painted in the Impressionist style, effectively began a genre incorporating ideas of modernity. The formal rejection of official salons was the catalyst for the development of this new style of painting which was a departure from traditional, academic studio painting. The informal style of painting was characteristic of Impressionism using 'plein-air' or painting outdoors. Another aspect of this new genre of painting legitimized the work of women artists and for the first time women artists are exhibited alongside their male counterparts. For example, in 1877 Degas invited Mary Cassatt to exhibit with the early members of the Impressionist group. Cassatt and Degas shared close friendship and she posed as his model regularly and exchanged philosophy on painting as seen in Degas painting of Mary Cassatt at the Etruscan Gallery.

It is during the nineteenth century that domestic spaces are treated as artistic subjects, freeing women artists to depict scenes of domestic life, offering vast potential for expression as seen in the works of Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalez , and Edgar Degas, Claude Monet (The Boating Party, The Lunch). The expressions of domesticity is a genre that many women artists embraced. Their intimate knowledge and familiarity with the domestic spaces allowed them to execute works of art that captured the intimate bonds between mother and child, and relationships within the members of her household.

There are also many images of middle class women at work in academies painting from live models. While much progress is evidenced in such images of women in art academies, there are still inequalities. Limitations on women artists kept them from painting from male nude models which explains the gendered differences in the subject matter of women artists. Not only was the subject matter different between women artists from their male counterparts, but the manner in which the subject is treated were vastly different as well. Many male artists depicted images of women from a point of voyeuristic and suggestive manner, however, the women artists imbued their subjects with iconography of an intelligent, thinking person. For example, "Reading Le Figaro" depicts the image of Cassatt's mother reading the newspaper. This type of figural representation is rarely seen in paintings by male artists.

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