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.