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Women Together/Women Apart

Women Together/Women Apart: Portraits of Lesbian Paris

Tirza True Latimer
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Women Together/Women Apart
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to look like a lesbian? Though it remains impossible to conjure a definitive image that captures the breadth of this highly nuanced term, today at least we are able to consider an array of visual representations that have been put into circulation by lesbians themselves over the last six or seven decades. In the early twentieth century, though, no notion of lesbianism as a coherent social or cultural identity yet existed. In Women Together/Women Apart, Tirza True Latimer explores the revolutionary period between World War I and World War II when lesbian artists working in Paris began to shape the first visual models that gave lesbians a collective sense of identity and allowed them to recognize each other. Flocking to Paris from around the world, artists and performers such as Romaine Brooks, Claude Cahun, Marcel Moore, and Suzy Solidor used portraiture to theorize and visualize a "new breed" of feminine subject. The book focuses on problems of feminine and lesbian self-representation at a time and place where the rights of women to political, professional, economic, domestic, and sexual autonomy had yet to be acknowledged by the law. Under such circumstances, same-sex solidarity and relative independence from men held important political implications.Combining gender theory with visual, cultural, and historical analysis, Latimer draws a vivid picture of the impact of sexual politics on the cultural life of Paris during this key period. The book also illuminates the far-reaching consequences of lesbian portraiture on contemporary constructions of lesbian identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4119-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book began as the story of one portrait—Romaine Brooks’sSelf-Portraitof 1923—which has both personal and professional significance to me (fig.1). My awareness of alternatives to the scenarios of marriage and motherhood that shaped a woman’s destiny when I was growing up in my sheltered Connecticut suburb owes an enormous debt to a very limited repertoire of images, images that sparked in me a sense of recognition, unnamed potential, unimagined horizons of possibility. Brooks’sSelf-Portraitis one such image. I first stood face to face with this near life-scale portrait at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in...

  5. One Lesbian Paris Between the Wars
    (pp. 20-42)

    Despite the reactionary thrust of campaigns to restore order to post-war French society in the wake of the First World War, many of the lesbians who had achieved recognition for their professional activities during the war years maintained positions of prominence during the reconstruction period. Adrienne Monnier, founder of La Maison des Amis des Livres, a hub of literary Paris, made the uneasy admission that women entrepreneurs like herself who had launched businesses or assumed new vocations between 1914 and 1918 had been “favored by the terrible Goddess” of war.¹ Undeniably, the recruitment of six million able-bodied French men between...

  6. Two Romaine Brooks: Portraits That Look Back
    (pp. 43-67)

    The lesbian society portraitist Romaine Brooks, an outstanding member of Paris’s growing population of modern women, cut a striking figure on the European cultural scene during the 1910s and 1920s. Her dashing fashions, raven hair, pale complexion, and penetrating eyes invested the painter with an aura of romance. Mireille Havet described Brooks, amid a select group of admirers, as wrapped in “the perverse and disquieting mystery of her spacious black living room, with its off-white and vermilion accents, gold cushions, lacquer ware, mirrors, geometrically patterned rugs, and grand fireplace.” The only natural touch, “a rude and untamable fire,” threw light...

  7. Three “Narcissus and Narcissus”: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore
    (pp. 68-104)

    Like the gallery of amazon geniuses immortalized by Brooks in her portraiture of the 1920s, the photographic work generated by Claude Cahun and her lover Marcel Moore during this period takes the politics of gender and sexual identity as a central problematic. In a 1921 text, “L’Idée-maîtresse” Cahun describes her sexual “creed” as “the guiding principle” to which she adhered. “‘The love that dare not speak its name’… lies like a golden haze upon my horizon,” she declaims,” … I am in her; she is in me; and I will follow her always, never loosing sight of her.”¹ Cahun embraced...

  8. Four Suzy Solidor and Her Likes
    (pp. 105-135)

    Portraits of Suzy Solidor lined the walls of La Vie Parisienne, the cabaret where she presided—on the fringes of Paris’s exclusive first arrondissement, and at the heart of what would become the city’s first gay quartier—from 1932 to 1946.¹ Some of the portraits, like Yves Brayer’s sketch of Solidor performing “on stage,” incorporate the nightclub’s decor—paintings, objects, and audience—as if to acknowledge the process through which this lesbian icon enacted her own celebrity (fig. 39). Portraiture, like theater, like the face itself, exists for—and cannot signify without—an external regard. Identity could also be described...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 136-144)

    This story began in Paris with the Great War of 1914–1918. Twentieth-century warfare, with its industrial efficiency, broke faith with the Enlightenment’s promise of progress and made the creation of new systems of social engagement—or the resurrection of archaic ones—seem urgent. Representational systems, gender systems, class systems, political systems all hung in the balance. Politicians demanded change or promised restoration. In Paris, no fewer than twenty cabinets formed and crumbled between 1918 and 1939, the dates that bracket this investigation. The subjects of my case studies experienced these decades as a time of intense creativity. They participated...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 145-184)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 185-200)
  12. Index
    (pp. 201-212)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)