A strikingly large number of prints from the fin de siècle are populated by women.
That’s not so surprising when we bear in mind that all these works were made by male artists for an public comprised largely of men.
While the emancipation of women was becoming an increasingly important topic of social and political debate, printmakers — possibly as a form of reaction — took refuge in the depiction of various female stereotypes.
In many cases, they depicted women as either worthy and demure homemakers or as sinful prostitutes and objects of lust.
The domestic interior was frequently used to represent the domain of the respectable, bourgeois type, who quietly devoted herself to her duties as mother and wife.
By depicting a woman in the street or in a bar, by contrast, the printmaker emphasised her dubious reputation.
Woman as 'objet d’art'
In 1899, the writer Camille Mauclair recognised these stereotypes.
Every female figure in contemporary art, he wrote, was essentially a decorative objet d’art, in which the woman as an individual remained ‘invisible’ — something we also find in printmaking in this period.
Octave Uzanne (ed.), Féminies: huit chapitres inédits dévoués à la femme, à l'amour, à la beauté, Paris 1896
Richard Thomson, The Troubled Republic. Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1889–1900, New Haven 2004
Sidsel Maria Sondergaard (ed.), Women in Impressionism. From Mythical Feminine to Modern Woman, Milan 2006