22 December 2010

Women with monkeys as prostitutes

We'll begin with the photograph above (credit here, via BoingBoing 2006):
"...the community of Beloit, Wisconsin came together on the banks of the Rock River to recreate George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte."
They are performing a tableaux vivant to reproduce the famous pointillist painting shown here:
One difference between the photograph and the painting is that in the photograph, the woman in the foreground does not have a monkey at her feet.  This may have reflected unavailability of one in Beloit, Wisconsin - or it may have been intentional, since the monkey symbolically represents that the woman may be a prostitute:
Furthermore, the inclusion of symbols, most obviously a monkey on a leash and a woman fishing, is indicative of the painting’s satirical nature. In nineteenth century slang, ‘singesse’ (female monkey in French) meant prostitute. The wordplay of ‘pêche’ (fishing) and ‘péché’ (sin) was a pun often made in French cartoons with reference to prostitution.  Such symbols speak to the ability of “the proletarian woman [to] become superficially bourgeois through prostitution.”  Through this subtle imagery, Seurat adds another dimension to the comparison of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, noting the superficiality and immorality within high class society.
That was all new to me, so I searched the web for pictures of women with monkeys, and after discarding those with Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Fay Wray, and Jessica Lange, I found this one by Aubrey Beardsley at La Muse Verte:
The Lady and the Monkey. c. 1897
and this one by Picasso:
- both of which presumably incorporate the monkey with woman = prostitute symbolism, as may this this depiction mocking an early American suffragette:
- both found at Infinite Thought, where there are other photos of women with monkeys.

I got started on this topic because of a Reddit thread last month, where the best comment comparing the Beloit photograph and the Seurat painting came from UserNumber42:
"Oddly enough, both were created with very small dots, one just has better resolution than the other."
And finally, since I won't have another chance to blog tableaux vivant again, I'll close with this old but quite remarkable music video by Hold Your Horses:

The art works recreated in the video are listed at Blog of an Art Admirer and History Lover.

4 comments:

  1. The thing that surprised me the most when I saw Seurat's Grande Jatte the first time was how huge it was.

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  2. once again a great post.
    and yes Big John that is one big stretch of canvas he went for, I'm surprised a museum in Texas didn't try for it.

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  3. That was fun! Interesting to see what stuck in my brain from college art classes. (Don't remember Otto Dix at all.)

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  4. I can say with certainty that Beloit simply didn't have a monkey. The turtle in the picture represents the unofficial mascot of the town and the college, based on the Native American effigy mound in that shape just west of the river. Though, in light of this, I think the town and the college both would have tried harder to find a monkey to substitute!

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