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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 2. Tracy Chevalier and Eunice Lipton’s Female Gaze: New Narratives about Women Painters


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New Narratives about Women Painters

Feminist theory and theories on gender differences in reading discuss the female gaze, a way of seeing which de-objectifies women, recreates women’s lived experiences, and creates bonds between women. This female gaze challenges the male gaze which situates women as “the Other” and treats women as erotic objects of desire (Felman 14). Women featured in paintings by renowned male artists, such as Johannes Vermeer and Edouard Manet, are often objectified by viewers, scholars, and painters. The girl featured in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and the woman in Manet’s Olympia are two examples of women in paintings whom viewers frequently eroticize. The viewing public sees these women with a masculine gaze (referring to the gender of the gazer, not biological sex) that assumes they are objects of sexual excitement for the painter, lovers, or merely aesthetically pleasing objects for viewers to gaze upon.1 Art critics Kris and Kurz contend that an “artist’s work has sexual significance, assuming that a beautiful woman in a painter’s picture is his mistress” (116).2 In “Imaging Desire,” Mary Kelly supports and extends Kris and Kurz’s contention, arguing that “Desire is embodied in the image [of a woman in art] which is equated with the woman who is reduced to the body…[her body then becomes] the site of sexuality and the locus of desire” (122). Art critics agree that a...

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