19th Century Analysis

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Presentation of Women in 19th Century France
Throughout history, visual art has been used as medium through which artists are able to express their thoughts and feelings concerning their personal ideologies, as well as a social commentary. It is clear, however, that opinions, as well as the way in which those opinions are presented to the public, vary greatly depending on a multitude of factors. These factors range from simple things such as the gender of the artist, to more complex factors such as the socio-economic state of the country in which the artist resides and the personal and political philosophies of the person. The works Woman Bathing (1890-1891) by Mary Cassatt| and Woman in a Shallow Tub (1885) by Edgar Degas| both show women
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While the works are ultimately very similar in subject matter, what ultimately sets them apart is the artist’s perception of society, gender and politics.
The years 1873 to 1890 marked one of the largest economic crises of the 19th century: The Vienna stock market crash, also known as the Panic of 1873. The original Great Depression saw bank reserves in both America and Europe drop from over 50 million dollars to 17 million dollars between September and October of that year. This extreme decline led to many other problems, not only economically but politically as well. The event saw the destruction of the middle class, and with that the appearance of extreme richness and extreme poverty, creating tension between the general public and the government. This event appears to greatly influence the artwork of it’s time period, including the painting Woman in a Shallow Bath by Edgar Degas. The piece was created using charcoal and pastel on a light green paper, giving the skin of the subject an almost sallow and sickly appearance. The woman is also bathing in the middle of a room, as opposed to in a bathroom or in a boudoir where one would commonly find the equipment necessary for bathing.
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Upon first glance, both the work of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas appear to be solely images of women bathing, but one must consider a myriad of outside influences on why the women were painted as they are, including the socio-economic situation in the country where the artist created the works, the personal political views of the artists and the role that gender plays on the creation of a scene, be it the gender of the subject in the painting or the gender of the artist. The time period in which Woman in a Shallow Tub and Woman Bathing were painted represented a time of economic crisis in Europe, the original Great Depression). The painting by Degas was in the middle of the depression, whereas the painting by Cassatt was at the very end, which could explain the difference in the use of colours as well as the demeanor of the subjects. Secondly, with Cassatt being a feminist and Degas being a conservative, it is likely that there will be clashing opinions solely due to the fact that Cassatt’s paintings were more progressive in nature, and Degas typically painted women in stereotypes such as dancing. Lastly, both paintings depict women in traditional gender roles, though in seemingly different ways. Cassatt’s is the care giver, whereas Degas’ is the object of desire. These three factors combined demonstrate

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