The Colonialist Gaze of Matisse’s Odalisques

by: Ellen C. Caldwell
for JSTOR Daily

Is the odalisque inherently problematic? As the dictionary defines it, odalisque refers to a female slave or member of a harem, but Steven E. Katz argues that the term has been used “more loosely” in the world of art to simply mean “a reclining nude female figure.”

In museums and art history texts, such terminology and subject matter (which most often is imagined and painted by white European male painters) goes largely unchecked. The Norton Simon Museum has a small-scale upcoming exhibit focused on paintings of odalisques by Henri Matisse and other prominent artists. The museum’s promotional material merely nods to the complications behind such imagery: “These erotic images of women in the geographically vague ‘Orient’ evoked a life of luxury and indolence far removed from nineteenth-century industrial society (and twenty-first century standards of representing race and gender).”

Read the rest here at JSTOR Daily.

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