When we think of how women were represented in 19th century art, Mary Cassatt’s high class matriarchs come to mind, enjoying their leisure hours with an afternoon stroll and a cup of tea. Yet seedier representations of the female gender were also produced in abundance, illuminating the trials of ladies for whom leisure hours were not an option at the time.
Drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics — these were the women who populated the canvases of many a French artist, those who wished to capture the economic unrest that accompanied fin-de-siècle’s artistic revolution. “Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914” creates a multidimensional portrait of the Parisian woman at the turn of the century, spanning from the frilly collars of the upper class to the dirty syringes of the desperately poor. This iconic era yielded transformative artistic innovation and with it major social and cultural upheaval, leaving both men and women scrambling to keep their lives and sanity in place.