Portrait of a Woman Scorned: Madame Recamier

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Portrait of a Woman Scorned
The Fairer Sex Treated Not-So Fairly
Curated by Katherine Anderson

Madame Recamier, David, 1800.
Under a facade of white wraps and virginal beauty comes the story of Madame Recamier - the headstrong dame caught up in the downfall of her royalist family. At a young age, Recamier's father forced her to marry a man of his age in the interest of saving the family money after the French Revolution. But this hardly resolved the issue. When her beau lost the money with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, the family name was the only remnant of glory. But this hardly put Recamier in a position of glory. After avoiding demands to serve as a lady in waiting for the new elite, Madame Recamier and her now-elderly husband were expelled from France by Napoleon himself. After her husband's continuous refusal to allow her to marry again for money, Recamier returned to France and hid away in a convent until her death from cholera.

Though her family's royalist ties and dwindling bank accounts quickly made Madame Recamier a pariah in France, it was her virginal appearance that ultimately excluded her from prominent socialite circles. Rumors flourished about Recamier's suspicious marriage to a much older man, including that she was allergic to sexual encounters or that she was infertile. Thus, when David chose to paint Madame Recamier in 1800 (despite the family's commission of another artist), her angelic attire and awkwardly positioned body displayed this quality. Though many women of the time used portraits to confirm their status, many viewed Recamier's as a disgrace to biology and her family, for she was now clearly portrayed as a completely unsexualized being. The position outcome? The style of seat upon which Recamier lays in David's painting was quickly renamed as "the Recamier."

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