Shana Kaplow

But the other thing that’s interesting to me in the painting is that the women, first of all they are clothed, they are not posing for the viewer. So they seem more self-possessed and in possession of their space and of their bodies. Their clothing is really layered and they are protected from that voyeuristic gaze. So I started to think that maybe it’s the painter who is the uncomfortable one, being in the space, he was the outsider, he was the other. I appreciate that, he gave it that quality, even though I think he also succumbed to some of the sort of norms of the time creating these sort of languishing scenes where women are kind of lying around.

But I have this great quote that, Delacroix wrote in his journal, it was from his experience there. So he went there in 1832 and then made this painting, it’s dated 1834. So he made drawings and watercolors in the onsite, but then later constructed the painting. So it’s not a completely accurate rendition of what he saw but it’s based on that experience.

So I thought what was interesting was he wrote, “The eye is truly dazzled by the bright light. The fresh faces of the women and children amidst a mass of silk and gold. For a painter it is a moment of fascination and strange happiness.” I thought that was so great because well for one, he is experiencing it very sensually. He is in this one comment, at least he is responding to the light and the movement and the reflections and such and the material.

It was also interesting that he talks about the children that of course this is a space where women and children are living and it’s very active and not that sort of languishing, sitting around smoking opium which of course there is an opium pipe there. It also sort of reveals some of the construction that he put into the painting that’s not accurate, you know, that he removed the children. He places the women in such a way that they seem to have nothing else to do, really, which I am sure is not really truthful, right.

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