Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Siäcle France
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paper 0-500-28049-5 Insofar as art historical inquiry in the second half of the 20th century increasingly has come to rely on psychological methodologies of one form or another, it has perhaps been more receptive than other academic fields to the advent of cultural studies; this adaptability is on ample display in Bodies of Modernity. In this bracing series of related essays, Garb (The Jew in the Text, not reviewed, etc.) examines t.he representation of gender in the works of late-19th-century French artists: Gustave Caillebotte, James Tissot, Georges Seurat, Auguste Renoir, and Paul CÇzanne—and photographers, including a fascinating study of the larger cultural response to the bodybuilding movement pioneered by Edmond Desbonnet. Garb is particularly good in dissecting the societal imperatives that struck down such works as Caillebotte’s seemingly innocuous Interior, Woman Reading (1880) and illuminating the subdued radicalism implicit in his paintings of urban artisans at work, as is her analysis of the trope of the female bather from Boucher and Fragonard through Renoir. There is, nonetheless, an occasional bit of mindlessness, as when Garb notes at one moment that Renoir, in his Nude in the Sunlight, is merely rendering a familiar—read clichÇd—artistic trope, but states thereafter that the work indicates that the artist obviously yearned for the “fecund, free femininity” the painting purportedly represents: No one can have it both ways, a scholar least of all. Such lapses are few, however, and well outnumbered by the sort of acute pronouncement——Nature was always the product of culture,” from the same chapter, is one—that jars as much for the manner in which it distills a truth as for the economy with which it is presented. While neither her subject nor her approach is strikingly new, Garb’s gaze is formidable, attenuated to precisely those nuances upon which a proper understanding of these works would seem to depend.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1998
ISBN: 0-500-01842-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998