In Advanced Placement European History the student should be able to identify the basic art periods, but more importantly the student should be able to "use" the style to interpret the history of the period. The following pictures offer one interpretation of Victorian Art.
The Social Position of the Sexes
The Victorian Age was dominated by men. Women were expected to remain at home and manage the household while men ran, and subdued the world. In the painting below a man surveys "his" world. He gazes outward toward "his" world, leaving what is inside (the home) behind him as he contemplates his next move.
Another view of the man's world can be seen at the point where men depart to run their world-- the train station. In the following painting the trains stand ready to depart, taking their passengers to the business world, the world of opportunity, the world of excitement, and the world of man. Note who is shown boarding the trains and who is clearly absent from the hustle of the station.
While men enter the train station to take on the world, women do not enjoy the same opportunity. In the next painting a woman sits just outside the gate to the station with her back to the trains. Experience, and a life of isolation, has taught her to accept her position, she no longer dreams of a world other than the home. Next to her stands her daughter, hands clutching the iron fance, symbolically the barrier to the world of men. Her posture indicates that she is still hopeful, she can still dream, unlike her mother.
On the bridge just above the train station another telling scene unfolds. Several people can be seen making their way across the bridge. On the extreme left a man and a woman, members of the aristocratic class, stroll across the bridge. But look carefully, the man is leading the way, towards the entrance of the station, the woman lags behind, following his lead. Even in conversation, she listens as he talks, describing his world. In the foreground a dog walks independently across the bridge. In the Victorian world, even the dog has more freedom than a woman, who must travel everywhere accompanied by a man. On the right, a member of the working class takes a few moments from his busy day to watch the trains depart. His station in life leaves him wanting and he covers his face forlornly with his hands .
The arts were a vital part of the Victorian age and certainly attendance at the theater was a focal point. In the following painting a woman has been escorted to an evening performance at the theater by a man. But note, the woman dutifully watches the performance on the stage, while the man certainly has other things on his mind. For men (in their world) this is acceptable, but not for women.
In this next painting a woman attends a matinee and sitting in a box in the mezzanine she uses her glasses to view the performance on stage. While she watches the play on stage, minding her station in life, a gentleman (?) in another box shows why he has come to the matinee.
Even in the lower classes the roles of the sexes remain the same. The painting below reveals a man and a woman sitting in a drinking establishment. While both are "in their cups" the woman still knows her place and sits with her eyes downcast, alone in her misery. The man at her side stares intently at someone else in the room, his thoughts elsewhere, he is not alone.
Painting #1: Caillebotte: Man at the Window 1876
Painting #2: Monet: La Gare Saint-Lazare 1877
Painting #3: Manet: The Railroad 1873
Painting #4: Caillebotte: Le Pont de l'Europe 1876
Painting #5: Renoir: La Loge 1874
Painting #6: Cassatt: At the Opera 1880
Painting #7: Degas: The Glass of Absinthe 1876