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No one wants to be foliage

October 20, 2011

Princesse de Broglie, by James Tissot c.1895

Ah, Mr. Tissot- you and your lovely pictures of enchanting women in beautiful frocks!

Of which this is not, perhaps, one. Because you see this one, this one, just baffles me, and the more I stare at it, the more I see so much that’s downright peculiar.

Let’s break it down, shall we? The stiffness of the pose is a bad start- less pose, perhaps, than rigour mortis- with that one uncomfortable hand glued to the sitter’s hip. The blue beaded choker appears too big for the Princesse’s neck, and makes an odd contrast with the subdued dress with those bright yellow slashes of trim. (No wonder that tiny head carved into the table leg looks as if it’s smirking at the whole affair.)

But the elephant in the room is surely that mantle– because after a moment isn’t that bright green fur trim is ALL YOU CAN SEE? (Is it fur or a kind of swansdown? And who would have dreamed in 1895 they’d be working fur dyed that colour?) And is it just me, or does it seem uncomfortably like the Princesse is metamorphosing into the plants, or being consumed by them (or regurgitated)? Coincidence that Tissot should pose his sitter, in her leaf-textured mantle, against a tangle of aspidistras and ferns? I think not. But I’m not entirely sure what Tissot is trying to say here (and I’d be interested to hear what you have to say in the comments).

I look at this, and try to imagine the sitter’s thoughts-is she ever so slightly self-conscious? Is she secretly aware that her new (and very expensive) outfit is perhaps not quite the success she thought it was? (Despite the fact that it’s the Very Latest Thing.) Has she begun to doubt, ever so slightly defiantly, that it’s quite right, quite elegant enough- but she’s going to wear it anyway?

All I know is that if Tissot’s women are generally beautiful flowers, this one is foliage.

And no one wants to be foliage.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2011 12:55 am

    My first thought was that the weight of her palm tree backpack has made her sit down quickly on that table……

  2. JoAnn permalink
    October 21, 2011 1:58 am

    curiouser and curiouser

  3. November 6, 2011 6:37 am

    I think she looks concerned that her hips look wide and her chest look flat. A big, fluffy cape screams “COMPENSATING FOR BOSUMS LACK” to me…

    Or maybe she’s tense and nervous that the table’s legs are going to give out – they’re at a slightly unlikely angle…

  4. Miss Halli permalink
    November 11, 2011 6:36 pm

    I think that she is obviously watching someone is about to get up and say something witty and cutting to them. Since ferns and aspidistras are hallmarks of Victorian proper living and she seems to be launching herself out of both the cape and the foliage perhaps Tissot is saying she is not quite as conventional as her surroundings. That would account for the fact that her dress and necklace do not match or fit with the cape in colour or style.
    Or else she just had really bad taste.

    • November 12, 2011 11:03 pm

      You know, I hadn’t thought of it, but maybe you’re right- maybe she is EMERGING from the conventionality of the ferns and aspidistras, rather than being gobbled up by them. Any way you look at it, for better or worse, she’s certainly unconventional…

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