France, Nineteenth Century, Art, Lesbian


In late nineteenth-century France, lesbianism became a heightened topic of interest due to scientific, social, and political discourse surrounding female sexuality. From this discourse stemmed a small but significant outpouring of lesbian artworks by male artists. Rendering the lesbian as a hypervisible, hypersexual figure for men to project their desires and fears onto, these artworks communicated concerns over sexuality, morality, feminism, class, and gender roles. Traditionally, historiography on this topic tends to focus on one mode of lesbian representation at a time or discusses lesbian art en masse. This scholarship has highlighted some different representations and the social circumstances that produced such art, but has limited analysis of the diverse methods of portraying lesbianism. This paper examines four distinct categories of lesbian representation – the hypersexual lesbian, the lesbian prostitute, the masculine lesbian, and the bourgeois lesbian ­– while also exploring how they all contributed to a larger cultural conversation on lesbians. Through the synthesis of different categories and elements of lesbian art in a social context, central facets of lesbian representation ­­­are illuminated, demonstrating how lesbianism specifically, and gender and sexuality in general, has been conceptualized, policed, and consumed in France and what this means for queer women, even today.