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Artist Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) liked to draw scenes from the late nineteenth century Paris demi-monde.

As individuals mingled in public places of amusement it became more difficult to pigeonhole their places in the social hierarchy. [Forain was] among the first to investigate the beer halls, cabarets, cafe-concerts and dance halls where women and children went out at night, sometimes without being properly escorted by men ...
(link)

I like the sly, half-concealed expression on the woman's face as she glances over to the man on her right. It's as if the artist captured her in the middle of one of those fleeting expressions which reveal underlying feelings.

And who is she, anyway, and what's the significance of that sideways glance? We could assume she's a prostitute or courtesan, but maybe not. As stated above, one of the features of Parisian life at this time was how social categories became increasingly blurred, especially for women. Because a woman sat alone in a restaurant didn't necessarily mean she was a "working woman." Middle-class, "respectable" women in Paris might have assignations at the maisons des rendezvous, or pursue affairs on their own. On the other hand, the man is probably exactly what he seems to be - a prosperous middle-class man hanging out in a Montmartre cafe, most likely open to the attentions of the woman to his side. The difference, though, is the "female gaze" to which she subjects him. And in capturing that brief moment, Forain documents a whole sea-change in cultural history.

Date: 2010-10-19 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] corvideye.livejournal.com
There's a wealth of untold story in the composition, how he sits squarely to his table, looking straight out with a placid, rather vacant expression. Whereas she sits at an angle, leaned away from him, yet looking back, tight and contorted...

There's also a seeming duality of scarcity/ plenty in the contents of their tables. His is cluttered with multiple bottles and cigars, hers has only an empty plate and a pamphlet or menu. To me there's a possible glint of jealousy/ covetousness in her glance, as her hand caresses her empty plate ...is she desirous of his person, or (also) his wealth and influence and the comforts that go with it?

Date: 2010-10-20 02:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] men-in-full.livejournal.com
Maybe him being fat is supposed to suggest the wealth he represents, in contrast to her scarcity?

Date: 2010-10-19 05:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] inlaterdays.livejournal.com
Those muttonchops and that top-hat combined with that lush figure make me wish there were more of the gentleman in the frame.

Date: 2010-10-20 02:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] men-in-full.livejournal.com
Yes, it is after all a man drawing a picture of a woman looking at a man ...

Date: 2010-10-19 09:46 pm (UTC)
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (books)
From: [personal profile] my_daroga
Lovely picture, and lovely analysis. And so much hinges, really, on who the woman is.

Date: 2010-10-20 02:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] men-in-full.livejournal.com
It is intriguing, I agree. Another strong sense I get from the picture is that she's right on the verge of something - you know, that moment upon which everything hinges?

Date: 2010-10-20 04:23 pm (UTC)
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (comic)
From: [personal profile] my_daroga
Right, right. Like, is she going to make a move, or wait? Is she on the lookout for a john, or is she hoping he glances over?

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