Splendour & Misery, Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 at Musee d’orsay Paris.

This is an overview of the exhibition I saw in Paris last week – ‘Splendour & Misery, Pictures of Prostitution’, 1850-1910 at Musee d’Orsay.

The Musee d’Orsay is one of my favourite museums.     Sitting on the left bank of the Seine in the 7th arrondissement it is beautifully located.     A great meeting place with it’s large animal sculptures outside and within walking distance of many other Paris landmarks.

Claire outside the Musse d’Orsay


The first major show on the subject of Prostitution, this exhibition retraces the way French and foreign artists, fascinated by the subject, have constantly sought to find pictorial resources for depicting its realities and fantasies in the world of Prostitution..

From Manet’s Olympia, to Dega’s Absinth, from Toulouse-Lautrec‘s forays into brothels, to the bold pictures of Picasso, the exhibition focuses on the subject of prostitution’s central place in the development of modern painting

Manet’s ‘Olympia’ which caused great scandal and outrage when first shown at the 1865 Salon. 


The Black Cat detail from Manet’s Olympia…..the black cat at the bottom of the bed is often missed…..


Dega’s, ‘Absinthe’.     I feel so sad when I look at this painting, my sadness mirroring that of the female subject.     It’s as if all the life has been drained from her.   I ask myself the question….What were her dreams – who is she?


This is a huge exhibition, one that warrants several visits.    I was struck time and again as I observed each painting that this was, and still is a man’s world of ‘pleasure’.     Sadly the world of buying and selling women for sex continues, possibly today to an even greater extent!

Toulouse-Lautrec’s ‘Au Moulin Rouge’  A large and superb body of Lautrec’s work was on view.

1024px-henri_de_toulouse-lautrec_-_at_the_moulin_rouge_-_google_art_project      Depicted in ‘Au Moulin Rouge’ – we see the women surrounded by the bourgeoisie – men of the middle class who after a night of entertainment, would then return to their bourgeoisie wives.    Another group of women trapped in a societal warp.

This exhibition not only shows us the world of prostitution in Paris, from the courtesans to the ‘pierreus’ (street walkers)  during a the 19th and early 20th centuries – it also gives us an insight into the recent history of women’s struggle to gain some sort of equality.   (many of the prostitutes had jobs, and used prostitution to augment their finances)

I could write so much more, but as I said at the beginning of this blog….this is an overview of what for me was a wonderfully thought provoking experience.

Afterwards a lovely walk through Paris with Claire. 


I hope everyone enjoys a lovely weekend.

A Bientôt.

30 thoughts on “Splendour & Misery, Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 at Musee d’orsay Paris.

  1. teagan geneviene

    Thought provoking indeed… stories with many sides; many points of view.
    This is a lovely post, Janet. It’s so nice that you let us meet so many of your friends in the photos you share. Have a fabulous Friday. Mega hugs!

  2. Pingback: Splendour & Misery, Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 at Musee d’orsay Paris. | Mark Geoffrey Kirshner

  3. snowbird

    What a fascinating post Janet. Yes….you would certainly miss that little black cat! I totally understand how you felt about Absinthe, the poor woman does look like she has given up, it’s utterly haunting. Oh yes, it’s still a man’s world for sure!xxx

  4. Jet Eliot

    I very much enjoyed seeing your Paris adventure, Janet, thanks so much. The paintings, each one is a gripping expression. I can see how the whole exhibit must have been a somber statement for a woman of today. But to see just these select few, all masterpieces, the craft, the expression, the depth–was for me, a real treat. I really appreciate the overview selection. Enjoyed the photos of Paris and Claire too. And I loved the cat. 😀

    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you so much, Carol. yes, I am fortunate to visit such places. It’s very was for me to get to Paris from London. Just two and half hours from central London to central Paris on eurostar….xxx

  5. Mary

    Wonderful review – loved seeing the images of master’s work. I forgot to tell you, that I absolutely loved the charcoal drawing you did of Claire – wow, those expressive eyes and strong strokes!


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