Like Sleeping Beauty, Carlo Marocchetti’s little girl sleeps forever, frozen in marble. In the throes of sleep her too-large gown has slipped off her shoulders. Marocchetti made a name for himself sculpting mostly political and historical figures, but it is his Young Girl Sleeping (and the earlier Young Girl Playing with a Dog, which netted him a prize) that reveals his sentimental side.
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes was a major influence on a whole range of artists, including Auguste Rodin, Georges de Feure and Ludwig von Hofmann. He co-founded and headed up the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Chavannes’ representation of Hope as a delicate, serene adolescent girl was not well-regarded by critics of the time—some critics suggested that Hope should be represented by a strong and vigorous adult woman. But the painting became one of his most cherished works in short order despite the critics.
Prior to the twentieth century sexuality in art was rarely expressed openly but was instead couched in symbolic terms or merely hinted at in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of the wrong people, namely church leaders and conservative secular powers. So it was with the theme of lost virginity. Pre-Victorian girls generally were married off, and consequently surrendered their sexual innocence, not long after they reached puberty (it was only around the nineteenth century that the concept of adolescence as an extended period of childhood really took hold–before this puberty meant adulthood and everything that went with it.)Thus, when loss of virginity was dealt with in pre-Victorian and Victorian art, it was framed symbolically, and the girls are frequently represented as quite young.
One of the most common symbols of this theme was the girl dipping her toe into or wading in water, in essence testing the sexual waters. Perhaps the earliest painted example (if we do not count the various paintings of Susanna, who was already married by the time of her bathing scene and so cannot be counted as virginal) is Joseph-Désiré Court’s Young Girl at the Scamander River, painted in 1824. In it we can see that the girl is barely pubescent, her breasts just beginning to bud, and she is being helped into the water by a muscular youth, who already has one foot in the water himself:
Before Court’s painting came Étienne-Maurice Falconet’s sculpture Bather; the girl is older here but still quite youthful:
The trend continued into the Victorian era:
A few artists even extended the theme to even younger girls:
Within this symbolic artistic dialogue about virginity we could also include Thomas Couture’s painting The Little Bather, who is so young that, not only has she not yet stepped into the water, no water is even visible around her. Other symbols of her innocence reinforce the concept, including an uneaten green apple (an allusion to the Garden of Eden), the white frock she’s sitting on and a crucifix:
Another major symbol of virginity lost was the broken water vessel, which had its roots in the late Renaissance. This tradition was exemplified by Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s The Broken Pitcher. There are a handful of cues here that the girl has just come from her first sexual tryst. The most overt is the nipple which coyly peeks from the top of her dress. There is also the fact that, as per Robert Herrick’s poem, she has “gathered her rosebuds”–that is, she is making use of the advantages of her youth. But, of course, it is the titular broken pitcher itself that signaled her lost innocence most effectively to the viewer.
Bouguereau continued the trend with his painting of the same name, but unlike Greuze’s sweet and content girl, Bouguereau’s girl appears to be saddened by the loss. Freud would not have missed the phallic implications of the spigot in this painting either:
Ramón Casas i Carbó depicted deflowering slightly more literally in his Flores Deshojadas, where the girl lies amidst a floor strewn with shed flower petals:
One of the most blatant examples of the lost virginity theme in art is also one of the most famous, Paul Gauguin’s The Loss of Virginity. The piece, with its bright modernist blocks of color and its in-your-face context,
seems to be the final artistic statement on the matter:
Indeed, artistically I suppose all that can be said about young girls’ loss of virginity (in our increasingly self-conscious and paranoid postmodern world) that won’t cast suspicion on the artist must be filtered through the lens of satire:
Mike Cockrill (Official Site)
Gyula Halász, aka Brassaï, though he worked in an assortment of artistic mediums, is known today principally for his photography. He was one of the preeminent street photographers of his time and is forever associated with his moody photographs of Paris and its environs. He occasionally aimed his lens at people too, including children.
Patrick Woodroffe is drawn to the genres of fantasy, sci-fi and surrealism. He has designed album art for everyone from Beethoven to Judas Priest, has done sculptural work for the famous Castle of Gruyères in Switzerland, and worked on the conceptual art for the film The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. I find the following painting both whimsical and somewhat disturbing. Who is the shadow-eyed old man on the cliff and what is he doing up there? Is the girl really flying or did that geezer just push her off the cliff? And what the heck is going on with that ship in the background?
From x on February 25, 2011
I like this one a lot. I like how parts of it look very real while others not so much. Also, I know what’s going on in the background; R’Lyeh is rising.
Keep up the posting, man.
From pipstarr72 on February 26, 2011
Ha! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Glad you like the site.
From x on February 26, 2011
I’m not sure why it gives me a little avatar in the corner. I’m not even a member of wordpress or any other blogs. I guess it doesn’t matter since Im going to be a regular reader of your blog here.
From pipstarr72 on February 26, 2011
I think it’s an automatic thing generated by WordPress for anyone who posts. Ha, my first fan! Lots of great stuff to come.
Symbolism was less a movement than a zeitgeist that arose in European culture as a reaction to the increased mechanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution, as well as the rise of secularity in contemporary life, in the late Victorian era. Subject matter was frequently spiritual or psychological and tackled the big issues–life and death, sex, faith and the emotional life of human beings. It was also, in part, a rejection of Impressionism, which concerned itself only with empirical/sensory observations of reality. Artistic styles within the ‘movement’ were as varied as the imaginations of the artists that belonged to it. Among the most successful Symbolist artists were Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch and Pierre-Puvis de Chavannes.
Today’s feature is on Klimt, who belonged to the Vienna Succession movement in his native Austria. His work was intensely colorful and sensual, sometimes erotic, and full of shifting patterns and shapes. Klimt loved women–the central subject of most of his work–and is known to have fathered over a dozen children.
This supplemental post was originally published on April 10, 2012:
I’ve already done a longer post on Gustav Klimt, but here’s a drawing of a nude girl I seem to have overlooked.