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Picturing a World

Blue dress at the café

While I was writing, the concept of "the male gaze” seemed more pertinent to feminist art history than to my novel. What made me chortle gleefully when I first saw At the Café by Forain was not the trio of repellent oglers, but that blue dress on the Parisiénne. Wouldn’t Jeanette love to see herself in it! Wouldn’t she love the hat! Let’s face it, she might even have enjoyed attracting the notice of strangers (she does want to be a star). But surely not these strangers: Edward was right to be dubious about the milieu and the people depicted.

Fashionistas: note the slender lines of the dress without a bustle on both the central figure and the woman in black seated to her right. They help date the painting to ca. 1879, when it was shown at the 4th Impressionist exhibition.

Readers: Sometimes when I look at this Parisiénne, she seems innocent and guileless. At other times, she seems to know exactly what she’s doing.What do you make of her facial expression? her stance?

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