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Sheer Presence: The Veil in Manet’s Paris

Marni Reva Kessler
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Sheer Presence
    Book Description:

    In Sheer Presence, Marni Reva Kessler demonstrates how the ubiquitous veil and its visual representations knot together many of the precepts of Parisian life. Positioning the veil directly at the intersection of feminist, formalist, and social art history, Kessler offers a fresh perspective on period discourses of public health, seduction and sexuality, colonial stereotypes, and, ultimately, an emerging modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9833-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxii)

    Almost imperceptible but most assuredly there, a thinned wash of grayish paint with a scattering of darker dots lies across the face of the woman in the foreground of Gustave Caillebotte’sParis Street: Rainy Day,of 1877 (Figure 1). She and her companion establish the right side of the picture plane, the rest of which is interposed by a diffusion of people who make their ways across cobblestone boulevards lined with Haussmannized buildings. While this picture has interested scholars particularly in terms of its urban context and formal complexities,¹ none of their interpretations has noted that this woman is wearing...

  5. 1 Pathologizing the Second Empire City
    (pp. 1-33)

    The foreground of a photograph taken by the Studio of Delmaet and Durandelle sometime in 1867 or 1868, during the construction of l’avenue de l’Opéra, is filled with rubble and dust (Figure 3). This picture documents a particular moment in Paris’s pathology, a moment characterized by cultural chaos, disorder, and change. Garnier’s unfinished Opera House sits just shy of the center, flanked by buildings in varying states of completion. The foreground of this image contains the fragments of what had been there before, the ruins, the shattered bones of buildings and paving stones. Forming a kind of mosaic of the...

  6. 2 Making Up the Surface
    (pp. 34-61)

    Not only was the late nineteenth-century French face connected to a discourse of urban pathology and visual inhibition, but also it was a locus of attention for both textual and visual explorations of aging and ideals of beauty. The face could register a woman’s age more readily than could her body, which would have been corseted, clothed, hidden, smoothed over, and perfected.¹ Photographs commissioned by the Countess de Castiglione shortly before her death in the 1890s expose how the face could be exploited as a space for an attempted revision of the visual manifestations of age even when the youthful...

  7. 3 Unmasking Manet’s Morisot, or Veiling Subjectivity
    (pp. 62-93)

    As I argyed in chapter 2, the postulates of fashion and cosmetics in late nineteenth-century Parisian culture conspired to fabricate an ideal bourgeois face, a face that foregrounded its surface as simultaneously smooth and highly artificial. Covered by the thinnest layer of rice powder and topped off with a veil, this face could appear to be ageless, even, and regular, not lined and variable. The creation of the impression of youth was, therefore, critical to the proper woman’s toilette. Why then does Edouard Manet, in his series of paintings of Berthe Morisot, go against this social expectation by representing her...

  8. 4 The Other Side of the Veil
    (pp. 94-141)

    My focus thus far has been on the French veil and its specific relationship to various social, historical, and cultural formations in Paris during the Second Empire and into the beginning of the Third Republic. The veil—as object, metaphor, and visual representation—signified the complexity of the position of the proper woman within the urban and, in the case of Manet’s representations of Morisot, domestic/professional fabric. But the veil that was worn in Paris at this time was also intimately linked to issues that far exceeded the physical geography of France. Indeed, the connection between the French veil and...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 142-146)

    The veil did not, of course, cease to be fashionable after 1889. Indeed, its popularity continued well into the midtwentieth century in Europe and America. Fashion photography of the 1950s was especially attracted to the veil, for it was already deeply invested in notions of high style and an ideal of feminine beauty. For example, the photographer Irving Penn often depicted models wearing veils when he or the designer wanted to convey the sense of impeccable taste and fashionability. In “Woman in Balenciaga Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn),” from 1950, Fonssagrives-Penn’s perfectly made-up face is rendered even more idealized by the billowy...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 147-172)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-200)
  12. Index
    (pp. 201-215)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-216)