Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sexual and Financial Power Play

Another compelling work by Giuseppe De Nittis, "Horse Races in the Bois de Boulogne". I would like to focus on the psychological aspects that it touches, because of the unusual intensity of the scene before us.

I believe that this painting is about power play. Sexual and financial dominance are the key themes in this piece but, by hiding from the viewer the actual horse race, the artist also performs a hidden meta power play with the observer: we have to trust the title, and the painter's inventive force. We do not see what he sees or the two figures see - we are powerless and restricted to he chooses to show us.

What strikes me first is that the lady is above her companion, high above him, standing upon a chair. Since the man appears undaunted by this disposition (and perhaps he assisted her in getting upon that chair), it seems plausible that this is the nature of things between the two . Her higher position is symbolical, and since it is late 19th century, I think that it can only symbolize a control of the sexual kind. Horses often represent sexual activity; standing that high she strains herself and tries harder to see what is going on, demonstrating strong interest - in what seems to be like her territory in the relationship between herself and her chaperon. But the man may compensate with extra leverage in the financial sphere.

I would rule out gambling addiction to the races because of his imperial and extremely self-confident posture. These traits oppose a gambler's nervousness and insecurity. Everything in his figure exudes "I own!" - the money, the horses - "anything I desire". He doesn't mind the woman, and, that she is above him; while she is busy watching the horses in their sexual symbolic representation, he is busy watching them as his investment, also a symbol, but of a straightforward monetary kind (if only we could see the symbols!). It seems that he is content with this division: she owns between the sheets and he outside of them. And from this point of view, this painting may display subtle chauvinistic motifs.

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