Artibus et Historiae no. 18 (IX)1988, ISSN 0391-9064
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DOROTHY M. KOSINSKI - Gustave Courbet's The Sleepers. The Lesbian Image in Nineteenth-Century French Art and Literature
Courbet's The Sleepers may be seen as a Realist interpretation of the latent lesbianism evident in many eighteenth-century works with the mythological subject of Diana. The theme of lesbianism was popular in the nineteenth century, especially with artists or writers who advocated Realism or Naturalism, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Maupassant, Zola and Flaubert. Lesbianism was, as well, a preferred theme of popular erotica, witness the lithographs of Deveria or Tassaert. In Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin, lesbianism is one expression of the author's theory of art-for-art's sake, his attack on bourgeois conventions and morality. In Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, lesbianism expresses his struggle between extremes of debauchery and asceticism. With the fin-de-siecle, lesbianism, along with androgyny, hermaphroditism and incest, figures in the works of Decadent authors. This theme also has a sociological or psychological context, reflecting the artist's, writer's or patron's personal response to an actual social phenomenon.