Monday, February 3, 2014

Woman Caressing a Parrot (1827)

Eugène Delacroix: Woman Caressing a Parrot

There appears to be something of a tradition of nude or scantily clad women painted with parrots. It began in the Baroque (example: Rosalba Carrera) but really flowered in the 19th century with Delacroix and many later examples.

These are innocent parrots but later representations of the bird are fraught with erotic meaning. During the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the parrot – having once symbolised Eve – became instead an image of sexual lust and longing. Wistful women alone in their boudoirs contemplate their pet parrots as they dream of their distant lovers. The most famous examples of the genre, by Manet, by Courbet, by Renoir, are too precious to have been sought as loans by the Barber Institute. But the exhibition does include two wonderful lesser known examples: A Woman in a Red Jacket Feeding a Parrot, by the seventeenth-century painter from Leiden, Frans van Mieris the Elder; and Giambattista Tiepolo’s smouldering Young Woman with a Macaw, a capriccio executed by the greatest Venetian painter of the eighteenth century for Empress Elisabeth Petrovna of Russia. A blushing young lady, in decolletage so low-cut as to reveal her right breast, stares into space. The parrot she caresses looks out at the spectator with a sharp, proprietorial gaze. [Andrew Graham-Dixon]

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