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Women at the window

What is a window on a canvas, if not a painting within a painting? A frame in which fits a perspective, a landscape, a scene or simply nothing specific. And when a woman looks through this opening, against the light, her back turned to the viewer, the mystery takes shape. What is she looking at? What just happened? Desire to escape or, on the contrary, satisfaction of being at home, sheltered?

This is the secret that we will try to pierce through the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, Fritz von Uhde, Antoine Bourdelle, Salvador Dali.

Caspar David Friedrich. Femme à la fenêtre. 1922. Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin
Caspar David Friedrich. Femme à la fenêtre. 1922. Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

A figure of German romanticism, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) is best known for his traveler contemplating a sea of clouds. This character, with his back turned facing jagged peaks emerging from a cottony mist, has become the archetype of the man experiencing the unfathomable nature of his existence.

The "Woman at the Window" also has her back to us. Placed in semi-darkness in front of the ledge where two bottles are, it is not clear what she is doing, her forearms and her hands being invisible. Is she reading a letter? Is she simply supported? Does she wave to someone? Outside, the presence of a mast betrays a boat, while the horizon is barred by a hedge of barely sketched trees. The sky is observed through the panes of glass placed above the window, which may suggest that we are in a studio. The omnipresence of shades of green, whether in the young woman's dress, the walls or the vegetation, gives this painting a note of anguish, accentuated by the shift in the observer's point of view. in relation to the subject. Indeed, we do not find ourselves in the axis of the window, as evidenced by the direction of the slats of the parquet. The setting in singular space of the painting forces us to enter it, not as a spectator but as the actor of a scene whose meaning escapes him.

Fritz von Uhde . Jeune fille à la fenêtre. 1890. Städelmuseum Frankfurt
Fritz von Uhde . Jeune fille à la fenêtre. 1890. Städelmuseum Frankfurt

Raised in strict Protestantism, influenced by Bastien-Lepage, Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911) became friends with Max Liebermann. His initial naturalistic approach progresses towards a much more personal style in the use of both light and precise touches which find their unity in color, like the Impressionists.

In his "Girl at the Window", Fritz von Uhde depicts a seamstress taking a break. The work is in place on the sewing machine, placed on a simple wooden table. The window overlooks a walled vegetable garden and a few houses. A wall on the left bars half of the space bounded by the opening, forcing the young woman to look to the right. Hands are clearly leaning on the windowsill. What is our heroine observing? Is her lover downstairs, who declares her love for her? Much brighter than Caspar David Friedrich's painting, Fritz von Uhde's depicts the serene atmosphere of a sunny afternoon.

Antoine Bourdelle. Femme à la fenêtre. Musée Antoine Bourdelle
Antoine Bourdelle. Femme à la fenêtre. Musée Antoine Bourdelle

The fame of Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) as a sculptor was such that it almost eclipsed the pictorial production of this gifted pupil of Auguste Rodin.

In this painting, a woman, still from behind, seems to be leaning on the railing of a window which lets you see a building whose brick wall probably betrays the state of a factory. Flower pots give an elegant touch to the whole. As in the paintings of Friedrich and Uhde, we do not know what the character is contemplating, slightly set back in front of an excessively large window, so much so that the top of it is beyond the limits of the painting. Note the precision of the reflection of the young woman on the right window.

Salvador Dali. Femme à la fenêtre. 1925. Musée National Reina Sofia
Salvador Dali. Femme à la fenêtre. 1925. Musée National Reina Sofia

In the 1920s, before meeting Gala, Salvador Dali (1904-1989) very often painted his sister Ana Maria.

In this painting from 1925, Ana Maria is 17 years old. Again, she is shown from behind, leaning on the window sill and seeming to be deep in thought. In front of her, the landscape is more than sketched. We clearly distinguish the sea (the scene is located in Cadaques), a sailboat, then, in the background, hills, a beach, a relatively detailed road. The different shades of blue and ocher used in this painting testify to the pictorial genius of Dali, of whom Ana-Maria said: "Indeed, Salvador always painted me in front of a window..."


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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