Emma Barker on the Greuze Girl in ‘Representations’

Posted in journal articles by Editor on February 5, 2012

Emma Barker, “Reading the Greuze Girl: The Daughter’s Seduction,” Representations 117 (2012): 86-119.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, "Girl with a Dead Canary," 1765 (Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland)

Abstract: This essay challenges the generally accepted interpretation of Greuze’s Girl Weeping over a Dead Bird (1765) as an allegory of lost virginity by considering the painting in relation to eighteenth-century representations of the young girl in a range of discourses, including aesthetic theory, sentimental fiction and medical literature. Its central contention is that the implied spectator to whom the painting is addressed is not a lover as such, but a quasi-paternal figure, who disavows his own desire for the girl whilst nevertheless enjoying an eroticized intimacy with her. In thereby raising the specter of incest even as it represses it, Weeping Girl exemplifies deep-seated tensions within later eighteenth-century French culture.

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