Richard Avedon, Fashion Fiction No. 1, 1966
WOOFY, THE WALRUS
MARINELAND OF THE PACIFIC
RANCHO PALOS VERDES - SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
WOOFY, THE WALRUS, arrived from Alaska with three other walrus babies in May, 1961. He was only two weeks old, but already he weighed 80 lbs. A diet of pure whipping cream, minced clams, brewer’s yeast and vitamins helped him and his playmates gain a pound a day for many months. He will eventually weigh at least 2,000 lbs.!
Madame X - John Singer Sargent, 1884
There are 8 million and one things I could say about this painting, but I’ll keep my remarks brief. The woman in the painting is Virginie Gautreau. Originally an American who moved to Paris, Gautreau was groomed by her mother to take a prominent position in society as a “professional beauty.” Sargent approached Gautreau to pose for him, wanting to pay homage to her beauty. This portrait was shown in the Salon of 1884 to widespread criticism and ridicule, for both Sargent and Gautreau. Before this work was released, Sargent had been gaining momentum in Paris as a portrait painter, but after heavy criticism, he relocated to London, where it took a decade to rebuild his career. Gautreau was ridiculed so much that she withdrew from society and became a recluse.
As for the painting itself, one of the many unsettling aspects for critics at the time was that Gautreau is pictured as an erotic yet resistant woman. The fantasy in art history is in the representation of women as accessible and available to the male viewer. However, the way Sargent presents Gautreau resists that. Her face in profile looks away from the viewer; yet, her body is exposed and presented to us as an object of desire, but not the “come hither” kind. Sargent challenges the presumed passivity of posing, because her body, but not her gaze, looks back at the viewer.
Mr. and Mrs. Phelps Stokes - John Singer Sargent, 1897