A GÉRÔME FOR TODAY

Victorian academic painters loved doing scenes set in antique Roman or
Oriental baths — it was a respectable way of showing lots of women in
various stages of undress.  The casual, languorous poses of these
women would have seemed shocking in a modern setting or unseemly in
mythological or allegorical images.  One of the things that was
radical about the Impressionists was their depiction of nudity in
naturalistic ways, in ordinary settings.  The academics had it both
ways — their settings could say, by implication, “Modern European
women don't look or act this way with their clothes off,” but everyone
knew (or suspected, or hoped) differently.  The hypocrisy added a little spice to the
proceedings — wink, wink . . . nudge, nudge.  It seems a bit
silly now, but a bit charming, too.

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