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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Try This At Home



Some of the best responses I’ve received so far were reactions to my post on Magritte’s painting depicting a pipe. I had no idea this would spark such interest and I’m wondering if lightning can strike twice at Chubby Chatterbox.


First, I’m not going to tell you this isn’t a painting of a nude woman. It is…sort of. (Darn—I’m lying already.) I’ll clear this up by saying this picture is intended to depict a woman. It was painted in 1814 by a Frenchman by the name of Ingres (pronounced angry-without the y). It’s called Grande Odalisque, an odalisque being a harem girl. The French were queer at the time for anything having to do with distant cultures. They coined the term Orientalism, even though Grande Odalisque doesn’t resemble anyone who ever stepped out of the Orient. Still, isn’t she pretty? This was French Nineteenth Century pornography at its finest. A wife couldn’t get too upset if her husband ogled her; after all, she was art!


This lovely lady caused quite a stir when exhibited at the 1814 Salon in Paris. She instantly assumed her place in the grand tradition of painted female nudes, rivaling the languid ladies of Titian and Rubens. And there’s much to admire here. The enamel-like flesh tones, the tour de force rendering of the silk turban, fur, peacock feathers and jewelry, and the intoxicating steam rising from the pipe in the bottom right corner. These were intended to inspire an intoxication of arousal. As Jessica Rabbit said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” But not everyone was happy with the way Grande Odalisque was drawn. Look closer and you’ll see why.


Salon attendees in 1814 were disturbed by a few things in this painting, such as the Scarlett O’Hara waist and an ass that makes J.Lo’s look flat as a halibut. Ignoring the odalisque’s feet, which are softer than a baby’s ass and look like they’ve never been walked on, I tend to focus on her breasts, if that’s what those are. Female breasts don’t spring from the sides of women like tumors, but our hottie has her back to us and Ingres didn’t want us to miss any of her perky curves, especially since they help sell copies of the painting. She also doesn’t have elbows; Ingres didn’t like elbows on women and banished them by covering them up or painting them out. Since he did so with camera-like realism, it takes a while to notice.


So, feet that have never been walked on, no elbows and boobs in the wrong place, and that’s not all that’s wrong with her. I’ve saved the best for last. But first a bit of back-story.


French wives got tired of their husbands salivating over the Grande Odalisque and decided to remedy the situation. They called in interior decorators to transform their boudoirs into harems. They dashed off to the Dollar Store for a few peacock feathers and ran to Turbans-R-Us for headgear. They wanted to win back their husbands by assuming the position of Grande Odalisque. But they couldn’t because Ingres gave his lady three or four extra vertebrae to create the pinwheel composed of her bejeweled hand, the fan, the flesh of her calf and the blue silk drapery.


Masterful. But as women all across France quickly noticed, this pose was impossible to achieve without a freakishly long back. Ingres had distorted female anatomy to serve his artistic purposes by showing a composite, one that’s impossible to view from a single angle. He played with reality in a new way, yet he brilliantly managed to create a breathtakingly beautiful image. Modern art was sniffing at Ingres’ heels.


I said earlier that, unlike Magritte’s pipe, this was intended to be seen as an image of

womanhood, but more accurately it’s an ideal, a composite of female pieces that, the more you look, doesn’t resemble a flesh and blood woman at all.


Don’t believe me? Get naked and try to assume her position.

23 comments:

  1. That isn't you in the top picture is it? I thought probably not. She seems to have put a cello down her back. But of course you are right. and also I think there is something decidedly odd about the position of the legs. The boobs could be that way if she was leaning her chest on a cushion - but I don't suppose she was.

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  2. This painter would have been great at drawing comic books. Or at designing Barbie dolls. I wonder if they had chiropractors back then to fix the backs of all the ladies trying to get in that pose?

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  3. Poor girl- she has a lot less going for her than she thought she did. That's so unique about the elbows- I knew there was something about the arm at first glance, but couldn't pick out what it was. A very informational piece!

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  4. I had noticed that she seemed somewhat plump around the derriere but would not have spotted the other points without your guidance. And I agree with Jenny about the legs.

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  5. When I first glanced at Grande Odalisque, I thought her back looked odd. More eel like that a real spinal column. Elongated and odd twist....While I didn't notice the weird placement of the boob, I guess the artist had to modify to get the men's attention. Ingres was way ahead of his time. Today air brushing and photoshopping is the norm in the "artistic" pictures in Playboy and it's ilk.

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  6. Awesome story as usual Stephen!

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  7. Awesome post! I'm a little freaked out by the no elbows thing. As for the pose, I'll be trying that later tonight! She's like a female Stretch Armstrong!

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  8. Pretty mild painting if you ask me, but you didn't. Well perhaps you did. Anyway, she does look a bit our of proportion in spots.

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  9. The first thing i noticed was that she was excessively long waisted, thanks for explaining why.

    That's the thing about art/photoshopping. You can create an ideal that no one can ever reach.

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  10. The first thing I noticed was the long-long waist and the crazy foot position. Sadly, I'm so used to seeing artificial popping boobs these days that stick out in all kinds of abnormal ways that I totally missed the boobs--LOL! But I do see a little dark mark that I thought was a very low elbow...that matched her very low butt.

    That's very interesting about the history of this painting and the effects it had with the peacock feather buying and all. She just looks odd to me...and with a bland baby face. But, then again, look at what they consider glamourous today? Actresses and models that look like they are starving and all their bones show. ;)

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  11. Fascinating post! I'm actually quite an admirer of Ingles' works, though this piece is not one of my favorites...not even close. In fact, I don't like it all. That long back just BOTHERS me. Like a human gazelle...ugh. Three or four extra vertabrae? It looks like she's got a half dozen or so in there! Some of his nudes look more like your typical zaftig ladies of Rembrandt and his contemporaries, but this one is...unusual.
    Try this tonight at home? I don't THINK so.
    I'm your newest follower!

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  12. Very interesting. Wonder why he had such an aversion to elbows? You're right, many subtle things are definitely "off" if you know what to look for. You obviously do. Thanks for the artistic insight. :)

    S

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  13. Well, I believe I'll have to study quite a few more nudes to make comparisons! Now where's that life drawing class!

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  14. "back story"... made me chortle a bit there, Stephen.

    I have to admit that in the comparison shot I find the photograph to be far and away more aesthetically pleasing. Ingres and I have very different ideals, I guess.

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  15. I tried to assume that position -- and you're right, I didn't look anything like her!

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  16. I love this kind of information and wish I had paid attention in art history class. Keep the tidbits coming. I need an education.

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  17. with this painting, i'm afraid Ingres and I wouldn't have gotten along very well. lol.
    i'm sure J-Lo too :p

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  18. What a good lesson in the 'art' of observation!

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  19. It's amazing how our brains fill in and gloss over things that don't really fit but look almost like they should. I hadn't spotted these things until I read your post. I really must pay more attention.

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  20. I've seen the painting before and thought that she looked freakishly mis-proportioned. The fact that you state that she is just confirms my belief that no back could contort like that. Because of the anatomical incorrectness that leapt off the painting to me...I never thought she was attractive.

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  21. Are you kidding? I'd never be able to get up again. ;) Fun post, CC. :)

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  22. I guess airbrushing has always occurred FOR men at the expense of women...does anything ever change?!

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