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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy
Notes taken on March 1, 2018 by Edward Tanguay
The Sleeping Gypsy (1897)
a mysterious work
has similar themes with The Dream
a recumbent female figure occupies the focal point
part of an exotic landscape
exists in harmony with the animal world
the full moon rises high in the sky
in both paintings there is a dark-skinned musician
a wanderer
carries a staff
pitcher of water
musical instrument
an artist and an outsider
perhaps like Rousseau himself
was not accepted by the art world
except for Gaugin and Picasso
Rousseau described it: "A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, sleeps in deep exhaustion, her jug beside her. A lion happens to pass that way, and sniffs at her, but does not devour her. The scene takes place in a completely dry desert. The Gypsy is dressed in oriental fashion."
the sleeping gypsy
perhaps she's dreaming of the lion in the river
as Jean Cocteau suggested
deeply enigmatic, mysterious and puzzling
the base of the lion's main evoke the lines of the woman's hair
the bare foreground is mirrored by the bare background
the two plains divided by softly drawn mountains and a river
perhaps the river of Lethe
both the woman and the lion are separated from the mountains by the river
her bright robe enhances the beauty of the sea
relation to the senses
woman evokes music and pleasure
the full moon creates an overall sense of the romantic
but the romanticism is edged with strangeness
emphasizes the poetic quality of the work
the painting takes us back to a far distant imaginary time, long before the modern period
where human and animal lived in relative peace in the natural world and shared common spaces
humans and animals have more in common than previously thought
both experience a similar range of feelings and emotions
almost sculptural
nothing moves
a strange lack of motion in Rousseau's paintings
anticipates the surrealist's approach
juxtapositioning unexpected objects in unfamiliar ways to create a sense of the marvelous
frees up the viewer's mind
creates a new space of imagining new possibilities and relationships
the marvelous was also disorienting, gave the viewer a shock
André Breton (1896-1966)
Surrealist Manifesto
described Rousseau as before the time of surrealists
Rousseau's painting invoke a passion for otherness
particularly in relation to the lands and peoples of the colonial empires
the sleeping gypsy is an oriental picture of its own kind
a poetic oriental landscape
the gypsy is a musician
Rousseau played the violin
a strong sense of boundlessness in relation to the landscape
a sense of an endless desert
the beauty of a sublime landscape
gypsy lies in a deep sleep with eyes slightly open
robe with white frill around the collar
as if she is a pilgrim
the bareness of the landscape suggests a dreamscape, a theme of surrealist paintings
freedom of imagination
importance of desire
shows a woman living and traveling freely according to her own desires
desire is the soul motivating principle of the world
arouses a desire for the free life, to find oneself
Rousseau locates this desire in a woman, black woman, an outsider, and artist
the painting has a strange beauty and evokes a desire to roam free from the restrictions of contemporary urban life
this woman lives in all of us
she represents an inner, deep-seated, human longing to live a life that is true to oneself
the woman is painted in an extremely unusual context
traveling on her own terms
not sexualized at all
she's simply beautiful in her own right
a wanderer, living her own life, a strange, exotic being
black women were rarely represented as subjects in their own right
appears to live in harmony with nature
the lion seems careful not to disturb her
the painting can be seen as gendered
the lion male
the gypsy female
if Rousseau would have painted the gypsy as a man, it would have created a different meaning
the lion seems to be protecting her so that she can have the freedom not just to sleep but to dream
reminds us of Mary of Egypt
the patron saint of penitents
born in Egypt, lived a sexually desolate life
wandered the deserts
befriended a religious man on her journeys
he gave her his mantel to cover her body
after she died, he noticed a lion standing by her body licking her feet
the lion dug a deep grave and he buried her there
she lies on the ground as if asleep but her eyes are partly open as if in a trance
perhaps this is the seen of Mary's death