Joan of Arc, Juliette, Desdemona … Museum of Romantic Life in honor of these imagined and unfortunate heroines of the nineteenth century

The topic of romantic heroines is not dealt with. Until September 4, it is on display in an exhibition at the Museum of Romantic Life in Paris. Gaëlle Rio and Elodie Kuhn, curators of the event, searched for them among the works of the nineteenth century and analyzed the way in which they were represented. With just over 80 works, the museum offers a panorama of female heroines: heroines of the past, fiction, and theater.

Here, there are no victorious female characters, running or on the battlefield. “The nineteenth century is not the century of women, it is not the time when the law will set them free”, explains Elodie Kuhn. The Napoleonic Civil Code of 1804 undermined the status of women by establishing the legal incapacity of wives. result ? Representations of heroines by artists – both men and women – are steeped in historical context: “There is a majority way of showing the female, which says a lot about society. The heroines appear going through a fate that transcends them.”

Often they fall prey to their amorous passion: they love and die out of love. “The drama of the springs in the story of these heroines is what intrigues romantic artists”, Gaëlle Rio Analysis. They take inspiration from their stories and make them themes for their work. Painters Eugene Delacroix, Anne-Louis Giroudy, Antoine-Jean Gross present them with translucent skin: “It is a material aspect associated with the fragility of the body, but also the fragility of the soul. It corresponds to the instability of their destiny,” Commissioner notes. Impossible love, despair, sadness, five romantic heroines in all their states.

Sappho the Greek poet

Antoine Jean Gros (1771-1835),

The exhibition opens with a painting by Sappho (or Sapho) in Leucate Drawn by Antoine-Jean Gros (1801). This is a Greek poet of the seventh century BC. JC became known for his love poems that he sent to another woman. Centuries later, 19th century artists exploited her story and made her a romantic heroine who rewrote her story: she committed suicide out of love for a man. This new version of the story was published by Alphonse de Lamartine in his book New Poetry Reflections (1823). “In people’s imagination, Sappho is a legendary figure when she really did exist!” , Gaëlle Rio’s comments.

As in Lamartine’s poems, Antoine-Jean Gros depicts the moment before the drama: the poet is about to throw herself into the void, one foot already balanced. “Romantics often choose to represent the moment when the story changes, and when the story explodes.” The painting combines characteristics specific to the artistic movement: a broad view of the horizon, light playing with chiaroscuro. The heroine has loose hair and wears a white shirt that reveals her curves: “In the nineteenth century, women wouldn’t go out with their hair or dress that way, it was intimate dress.”

Hallucinations, the torn lover

Like Sappho, Héloïse was already there, too. This 12th-century notebook is secretly married to her 36-year-old teacher, Abelard. When their union is discovered, he is castrated and enters the monastery: “impossible love”, notes Elodie Kuhn. at his table Hallucinations embrace monastic life (1812), Jean-Antoine Laurent shows the young girl looking at a portrait of Abelard taken from her by a nun. “This painting shows the typical tension of a romantic heroine, between what the heart wants and the expectations of society and religion.”

Héloïse’s story is also disseminated through Epinal Pictures: a series of popular, vivid prints published by printer Jean-Charles Pellerin. “At that time people may not have seen the great paintings of the Romantics, but they still knew hallucinations.” The little girl is represented on the bedding sets and the bedding. “The romantic heroine is necessarily a character already known to everyone, her story is transmitted through many means”, Justifies Elodie Conn. Bronzes representing these women, used to decorate bourgeois interiors, are also on display throughout the exhibition.

Ophelia, the beautiful deceased

Leopold Borth (1823-1860), Ophelia 1852, oil on canvas, 62.3 x 100.3 cm Saint-Croix Museum, Poitiers, France.  (Christian Vinod - Muse of Poitiers)

In 1827, Shakespeare’s plays were staged at the Teatre de Lodion by an English troupe. Romantic artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Alexandre Dumas and Hector Berlioz attended. They are all disturbed by the female characters, especially Ophele’s character, who has drowned in a creek after Hamlet’s murder of her father. Drawn by Leopold Borth in 1852 (Ophelia). “This painting exudes extreme serenity while the subject matter is downright tragic. There’s this country setting, these flowers, all this water,” Elodie Kohn notes, Then it was released.

Death is an aphrodisiac. “It’s the pinnacle of the beautiful deceased. At that time, we considered drawing a dying little girl to be a very poetic subject.” Atala – the heroine of Chateaubriand – painted by Anne-Louis Giroudette Triosson is also covered with a veil that reveals the shape of her breasts. “There is a contradiction: these heroines give up, it is the triumph of society. In spite of everything, in the performance there is a sexual excitement not connected with the story or the morals being conveyed.”

Marie Taglioni, sylphide dancer

Lepaulle Francois Gabriel Guillaume (1804-1886),

In the final part, the show focuses on the heroines represented on stage. “In the nineteenth century, there was a very strong connection between the character and its interpreter,” Gail Rio confirms. Actresses, dancers and singers have become contemporary heroines. “There is a kind of stardom that the press carries.”colleague adds. Among the performers is the dancer Marie Tagliano, known for her role as Sylphide sculpted in bronze as Sappho. “a star !”, Elodie Kuhn laughs.

ballet Self Marked by the history of dance. Created by Mary Taglioni’s father, the choreography features a winged little genius – inspired by Norse mythology – who falls in love with a young Scottish about to marry. For the first time, the performer dances pointe way along the road and wears an innovative muslin dress: the skirt. To watch him, the ballerina no longer had any earthly attraction. This ideal of fragility in classical dance comes from the Romantic Ballet. “

Marie Malibran, star singer

Henri Decaisne (1799-1852) Maria Malibran as Desdemona, 1830, oil on canvas, 138 x 105 cm, Carnavalet Museum, Paris.  (Carnavalet Museum, CCØ Museums Paris / Carnavalet Museum - History of Paris)

Marie Malebran is an opera singer, fine art of the nineteenth century. “There is a kind of hierarchy of professions. Singers who embody progeny heroines are much larger than dancers or actresses,” Gaëlle Rio details. In a painting by Henry Decaysn, Marie Malebran as Desdemona (1830), the singer was photographed before her husband suffocated her under a stormy sky. “The choice of meteors is not random. In all romantic paintings, they are drama.”

By a strange coincidence, Mary Malebran died by falling from a horse, in the prime of her life as Desdemona. What further strengthens the bond between the heroine and the instrumentalist, and creates a legend around the singer. The exhibition focuses on the descendants of these heroines: what will happen to them once the romantic period ends? Excerpts from contemporary opera and feature films are shown in the last room of the gallery, such as romeo + juliet by Baz Luhrmann. Jill movie, slips by Elodie Kuhn. The heroines of romance are still rooted in our collective imagination.

The exhibition “Romantic Heroes” until 4 September. Romantic Life Museum. 16 Rue Chapital, 75009 Paris. Prices: from 7 to 9 euros. 01 55 31 95 67.

exhibition poster

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