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Pygmalion is famously known as the mythological figure set on building his ideal woman who he then falls in love with after she is granted life by the goddess Aphrodite. The Roman poet Ovid created the sculptor in Metamorphoses. Centuries later, the image of Pygmalion would be appropriated by many European artists studying the classics as inspiration for their work. Jean-Léon Gérôme was a French artist who like many, chose Pygmalion as a subject for one of his many paintings; this piece is appropriately titled Pygmalion and Galatea (1890.) The painting depicts Pygmalion’s ideal woman as she is being brought to life. The notion of the “perfect woman” has many implications from a critical feminist perspective but is especially intriguing to explore when observing Gérôme’s piece. Gérôme curiously paints Galatea in a more domineering stance on a pedestal as opposed to Pygmalion who looks up at her from the ground with his arms held open. It is an interesting decision to make him the submissive force in the composition when one considers the misogyny surrounding Pygmalion’s character. Gérôme’s portrayal of Galatea is also subtlety indicative of 1890s culture in France with the opening of the infamous Moulin Rouge. Gender dynamics were shifting as women were employed by cabarets like the Moulin Rouge and entering a stronger presence in the work force in general. This research discusses the ways in which Gérôme’s work is an indication of the shift of night-life culture and the growing women’s rights movement in France, as previously outlined.
Marchione, Sarah, "An Analysis of Jean-Léon Gérôme's Pygmalion and Galatea From a Feminist Critical Perspective" (2021). Art and Art History Presentations. 5.
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