“The notion of the femme fatale developed in the second half of the nineteenth century against a backdrop of profound social change. For a start, the place of the artist in society was rapidly altering and this, together with a burgeoning middle class, led men and women to look for new forms of entertainment. They longed to escape from the dull daily routine into a fantasy world filled with high tragedy and stirring symbolism. What could have proved more satisfying in such a period than the femme fatale? She made life spicy, aroused and excited her viewers yet at the same time served as a warning. So the old stories were unpacked – tales from mythology or the Bible, the adventures of Medea, Circe, the Sirens, Judith and Salome were told anew. But this time the women weren’t heroines nor models of female chastity and piety. …Artists… …were to give the women a new role: they became seductive vamps plotting the downfall of the male.” (Huvenne, 9)
Images clockwise from top-left:
Klinger, Max. (1895). The Siren. Oil on canvas. 100 x 185 cm. Villa Romana Florenz, Florence, Italy.
Schwabe, Carlos. (1895-1900). Death and the Grave Digger. Watercolor and gouache over pencil. 75 x 55.5 cm. Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Cabanel, Alexandre. (1887). Cleopatra Trying Out Poison on the Condemned. Oil on canvas. 165 x 290 cm. Koninlijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium.
Desvallieres, Georges-Olivier. (early 1900s). Salome. Gouache on paper. 59.5 x 50.5 cm. Private collection.