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Faculty Mentor

Brian Winkenweder

Abstract

Through analysis of ocularcentric (vision-privileged) messages in Mary Cassatt’s Reading Le Figaro (1878), I argue the portrait represents a strong early-career interest in countering gender hegemony that is largely unmatched in the artist’s later work. Reading the painting as a reaction to decreased autonomy following a consolidation of family living spaces, the present paper satisfies a dearth in Cassatt scholarship by addressing a yet-undiscussed motif of vision in Cassatt’s painting: the mirror. In a complete subversion of classic vanitas paintings, Cassatt alters the woman-and-mirror trope to emphasize her subject’s desire for an identity of female mind over female body. Defying European culture’s hyperspecularization (concentration on display value), which converted women into objects of male desire, Reading Le Figaro challenges preconceived schemas of gender and offers autonomy, self-definition, and active female sight as alternatives to the gaze-controlling subjugation of women.

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