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Woman Reading | 1879/1880 | Édouard Manet

Woman Reading | 1879/1880 | Édouard Manet

On display at the Art Institute of Chicago in the European Painting and Sculpture Gallery, room 201.

On display at the Art Institute of Chicago in the European Painting and Sculpture Gallery, room 201.

This post combines three of my favorite things: reading, art, and fashion. I love this fashionable woman sitting in a Parisian cafe with a beer by her side and a magazine in hand. I'd love to be her - just replace the beer with a glass of wine and the magazine for a historical fiction novel and we'd be all set (perhaps The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams or The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis?) Rather than giving this woman a nice novel to read, Manet chose to paint her with an illustrated magazine.

It seems that Manet here mocked his model’s intelligence, for there is nothing expressive about her face, and he has made it quite clear that her magazine is filled with pictures instead of text. Indeed, she looks rather than reads. By focusing the young woman’s attention on such prosaic reading matter, Manet seems to have been poking fun at the tradition of painting solitary female readers or muses.
— Art Institute of Chicago

So what she might be reading? She is sitting in a café so it is likely she is reading a periodical provided by the establishment for the reading pleasure of their clientele. A popular French fashion magazine in the 19th Century was La Mode Illustrée.

La Mode Illustrée | 1879 | No 42

La Mode Illustrée | 1879 | No 42

La Mode Illustrée was first published in 1859. It was considered one of the most important fashion magazines in the late 19th century through the 20th century. This was the first magazine to publish weekly in order to keep readers up-to-date on the latest fashions. Similar to fashion magazines today, La Mode Illustrée included fashion illustrations as examples of appropriate dress for various occasions as well as literary works and articles.

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Wicked City

The Wicked City