Between Friends: Representations of Female Sociability in French Genre Painting and Portraiture, 1770-1830 Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Medakovich, Molly A.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History
  • This dissertation examines spaces of female sociability and their representation in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century genre paintings and portraiture. I look to paintings that feature female companions engaging with one another in various locales - the exotic colonial island, the convent, the boudoir, the salon, and the artist's studio - and analyze the ways in which artists represent female friendship in such settings. Despite the historical tradition that negated women's extra-familial relationships and instead privileged the male enjoyment of the offices of friendship, the companionship, intimacy, and collaboration that unfolds within the canvases suggests a dynamic that deserves more attention than has been heretofore been given. Historical and art historical narratives of this period before, during, and after the French Revolution consistently focus on male artistic and social networks, foregrounding them in a language of brotherhood and public virtue, but sisterhood existed in other significant forms. The images I investigate are drawn from the period 1770-1830, an era of genre painting and portraiture that presents a particularly rich set of scenes featuring female sociability, often in the absence of men. Intimate moments between mothers and maids, friendly strolls in the picturesque garden, scenes of shared confidences, friendship portraits and other physical tokens of affection and memory, and creative companionship all speak to a strong tradition of female collaboration and sociability, often displaying friendship as a means for individual development and shared emotion. Alongside treatises on friendship, fictional and real letters exchanged between female friends, and personal memoirs, the paintings that this dissertation addresses both reveal and construct the history of female friendship in early modern France. Ultimately, paintings of female sociability suggest that it allowed women to step beyond the strict identity roles of mother and wife and to develop unique subjectivities and identities. The culture of sensibility, in part, aided in the development of a language of female friendship and in the flourishing of images of the period that picture the intimate bond.
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  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Art.
  • Sheriff, Mary D.

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