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20 October 2020

Episode Three at the Prado is 'The Art of Indoctrination' and this is what the curator says: 'Some of the works shown in the official exhibitions were centred on a paternalist notion of the day that women needed men’s restraint to prevent them from being swept away by their uncontrollable emotions. Artists interpreted this supposed emotional nature as part of women’s charm but also as a sign of their weak character, an idea they represented in light-hearted images with titles like Pride, Laziness or Thirst for Vengeance, all clearly critical beneath their inconsequential appearance. The representation of madness or witchcraft was used to explore the same concept, associating woman with states of mental imbalance or some inexplicable connection with the realm of the occult and the irrational. However, other artists preferred to show them enjoying themselves in recreational settings, without any moralising reflection attached to the images, and a few openly denounced the unfavourable position in which the patriarchal institutions had unjustly placed women.' This is very well put and the parallel with reading fiction of the period is important: we can interpret from the vantage point of today's moral values but we can't change the past. The feminism of today is in the understanding of the past. That is why every single Persephone book is feminist, even if the contemporary reader might not have interpreted it thus. And that is why the Prado exhibition (but, to emphasise, we have not seen it and have not read the catalogue yet) seems to be a clever and subtle feminist statement. But it relies on the interpretative intelligence, of the spectator. This is by Baldomero Gili y Roig (1873-1926 ), a 1908 oil on canvas called Pride. 'In the last years of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, women were frequently depicted with certain attributes like the peacock in this painting, a symbol of vanity, that incarnated the defects regarded as specific to their gender. Pride is an extraordinary example of the pictorial expression of the so-called "female character", a reduction of woman’s essence to an archetype that was paradoxically brought about through a discourse of gallantry' (Prado curator again). The complexity of this painting would make an excellent accompaniment to a reading of Madame Solario (set in 1906). In fact the woman in Pride could be Madame Solario, with all her complexity.

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