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Writers and Artists in Dialogue

Historical Fiction about Women Painters


Cortney Cronberg Barko

This unique work of scholarship explores contemporary issues of male spectatorship and the importance of biography for art criticism in the work of Tracy Chevalier, Eunice Lipton, Anna Banti, Kate Braverman, and Susan Vreeland. Drawing upon feminist concepts on the male and female gaze, Dr. Cortney Cronberg Barko perceptively examines how these authors challenge androcentric models of reading by demonstrating women’s powers as readers and writers. This intriguing study reveals that authors working within the genre of fictionalized biographies of women painters reconstruct art history to create a new canon for women artists and invent a rhetoric about art that empowers women. This book is ideal for art history courses and a wide range of literature courses, including fiction, literary theory, literary criticism, feminist literary theory, and women's literature.
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Chapter 1. Introduction


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The dialogue of the woman artist with her society; the writer’s dialogue with the painter…and, more broadly fiction’s dialogue with painting are unfinished stories no matter what sort of closure the novelist may attempt to put upon them.

Roberta White, A Studio of One’s Own (31)

In Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire, art historian Eunice Lipton describes her search for details about the life of Victorine Meurent, an artist in her own right and the subject of Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863). As Lipton sets out on her quest, she engages in a dialogue with Meurent:

Even now as I write her [Victorine’s] name, she draws me into a state of wonder and reverie. She looks at me wistfully and brushes the hair from my face. She whispers in my ear and hints at marvelous discoveries. She smiles. Then, straightening up a bit she says, half tease, half entreaty, ‘Find me Eunice.’ How, Victorine? (42)

Lipton envisions Meurent as a woman who is anxious to be discovered because Meurent’s real identity is lost to art history. Meurent’s position as Manet’s model overshadowed her life and artistic output. In order to find Meurent, Lipton conducts extensive research into Meurent’s life and searches for clues that will allow her to “sketch a new picture” of Meurent, “anything that will ← 1 | 2 → distinguish [her] from the tragicomic...

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