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Title: Ambitious model, ambiguous artist : three case studies of Victorine Meurent, Suzanne Valadon and Alice Prin
Author: Zhao, Yelin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7233 7534
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis is about a singular figure who appeared on the artistic scene in the middle of the nineteenth century. I call this figure the Model-Artist. This term conjugates two facets of the production of art, which links issues of labour, creativity, class and gender. In this thesis, I look specifically into three case studies of the Model-Artist working in Paris from the second half of the nineteenth century to the second decade of the twentieth: Victorine Meurent (1844-1927), Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) and Alice Prin (1901-1953). By scrutinising the archives of these three individuals and reading critical writings on their work at the time and in subsequent biographies and art historical studies, I advance an argument about the significance of the model’s labour/the labour of modelling, in order to shift the canonical histories of modern art from 1860 to 1930 which privilege the artist. I also challenge, by expanding some of the feminist studies that examine the work of women as artists and as models in this period. I do so by examining three instances of women who worked as both models and artists in artistically and culturally different moments of the histories of modernism. This highlights the specific relations between the shape of each of these three women’s careers. It underscores both the new conditions of artistic production associated with the emerging formation of the avant-garde community and the new modes of art that were generated in terms of both the treatment of old and new subjects and in terms of artistic representation. Through the case studies, I avoid creating exceptional histories, and acknowledge invisibility (other stories yet to be found) as much as re-read known stories. Methodologically, I challenge and expand existing feminist art histories by criticising their continuation of the hierarchy between model and artist and the privileging of the artist. Through close reading of images, I pinpoint the changing aesthetic of art and analyse its impact on the artist’s practice of modelling as well as the modelling labour. The study of Victorine Meurent rests on a fragile and fragmented archive. I draw on Derrida’s theory of the archive and Foucault’s theory of the fold in the discourse to tackle the question of how to study a subject about which the documentary evidence is scarce. With a much more documented and substantial œuvre, Suzanne Valadon’s case enables an investigation into her artistic manoeuvres and avant-garde gambits in relation to her contemporaries. I examine her paintings as traces of an articulation of embodied experience that at the same time solicit different forms of spectatorship. The chapter on Alice Prin is an analysis of the cultural and social dynamics within the Montparnasse circle in Paris in the second and third decades of the twentieth century. From this close-knit community of international artists, the mythological figure of Kiki de Montparnasse emerged. Each case study situates the strategies and practices of three women negotiating a relation to artistic practice determined by the social, cultural, organisational and aesthetic specificities of three different moments in the emergence of modernist artistic practice and its communities. Labour, community and gender are key concepts throughout this study.
Supervisor: Pollock, Griselda ; Frojmovic, Eva Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available