Sophie Gengembre Anderson's 1869 painting 'Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things', Charles Ede is an elegant study of a woman's face and an unusual study of the female form in that it was rendered by a female artist. In the intensely patriarchal world of Victorian painting women were figures of contemplation, the object of a male gaze. Anderson's presence is a much-needed and refreshing departure from the man's world of nineteenth-century painting. The title of Anderson's gentle study is from a poem by Charles Ede, and appears to reference the dominance of populist paintings and dream-like and mythical reproductions of female-dominated tableaux. Most Victorian artists chose to feature Romantic renderings of literary heroines and tragic female figures, many of which were depicted as enchantresses, set to ensnare some unsuspecting male victim. Yet Take the Fair Face of Woman... is a mature meditation on serenity and nature and stripped of much of the loaded tragedy imbued upon most female subjects of painting.
Born in France, Anderson made a successful career painting rural renditions of women and children, filling the gaps left by her peers the Pre-Raphaelite movement. A self taught talent, Anderson fled the 1848 French Revolution for America, meeting a British genre artist and settling down. Relocating to London in the early 1860s, Anderson became fascinated with the technical flourishes and imagination of the Pre-Raphaelites, admiring their fascination with botany and the elegant and Symbolist evocations of their reproductions of the natural world surrounded by myth and legend. A remarkable success in her day, Anderson's work was not given the opportunity to develop, restricted as she was to a genre that was seen as the only one acceptable for women. Take the Fair Face of Woman... can therefore be seen as a searing critique on the patriarchy of Victorian painting.
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