PRINT April 2016


sex and art from Fragonard to Manet

View of “Splendeurs et misères: Images de la prostitution, 1850–1910” (Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution), 2015–16, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Foreground: Auguste Clésinger, Femme piquée par un serpent (Woman Bitten by a Snake), 1847. Background: Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863. Photo: Sophie Boegly.

TWO MAJOR EXHIBITIONS in Paris this fall examined the entwinement of modern art’s history with the history of sex. At the Musée du Luxembourg, “Fragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin” (Fragonard in Love: Suitor and Libertine) surveyed the career of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), France’s last and best Rococo painter, through the lens of what the museum’s literature called the “love prism.” At the Musée d’Orsay, “Splendeurs et misères: Images de la prostitution, 1850–1910” (Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution) presented “the world of love for sale” as the trope par excellence of late-nineteenth-century Parisian art production. It has long been an academic truism that questions of sex shaped the early history of modernism. Whatever the motivations of these museums—Le Monde fretted that French institutions had “discovered an infallible means of ensuring success by

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