The first monograph to examine the depiction of reading women in French art of the early Third Republic, Women Readers in French Painting 1870-1890 evaluates the pictorial significance of this imagery, its critical reception, and its impact on notions of femininity and social relations. Covering a broad range of paintings, prints, and sculptures, this book shows how the liseuse was subjected to unprecedented levels of pictorial innovation by artists with widely differing aesthetic aims and styles. Depictions of readers are interpreted as contributions to changing notions of public and private life, female agency, and women's participation in cultural and political debates beyond the domestic household. This highly original book explores images of women readers from a range of social classes in both urban and rural settings. Such images are shown to have articulated concerns about the impact of female literacy on labour environments and family life while, in many cases, challenging conventions of gendered reading. Kathryn Brown also presents an alternative way of conceiving of modernity in relation to nineteenth-century art, a methodological departure from much recent art historical literature. Artists discussed range from Manet, Cassatt and Degas, to less familiar figures such as Lavieille, Carrière, Toulmouche and Tissot.
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'Brown’s book is an ambitious and valuable study that illuminates a diverse genre of painting with ample illustration (sixty images, reproduced in black and white) and contributes a nuanced account of the place of the liseuse in visual art as a subject caught between the aspirations of Republican gender politics and a more countercultural vision of reading’s potentially illicit or subversive possibilities.' French Studies
'The book’s principal value lies in its detailed examination and complication of the reader theme. It highlights the broader socio-cultural signification of reading as an index of female agency and a transportable form of intellectual privacy with broader implications for the historiography of nineteenth-century painting. Most important, perhaps, it challenges us to reconsider the spaces of modernity and women’s often ambiguous relationship to and incursions into the public sphere.' Woman’s Art Journal
'Kathryn Brown discusses […] aspects of the woman reader in French painting in a comprehensive, thoughtful and well illustrated book which introduces its reader to some key concerns in this area of study.' Balliol College Annual Record
'…a good introduction to the cultural debates surrounding female literacy in Early Third Republic France.' Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Contents: Introduction; Knowing others; Making news; A republic of readers; Reading idylls; Books and bodies; Reading and sociability; Coda: literacies and modernities; Bibliography; Index.