Friday Fun: Women Reading

Portraits of women reading is perhaps one of the loveliest examples of ‘memes’ in art history, particularly in the 19th century and particularly in France. Was it the rise of the middle classes and of leisure time? Were the men boasting that their wives and daughters were well looked after, well-educated and could therefore spend time on that frivolous pursuit of reading novels? Or was it that there is a certain stillness in the act of reading which men as doers felt that they could not or would not choose to quite live up to? Or was it simply a respectable form of voyeurism for rich men/art collectors? Whatever the reason for it, it has left behind some beautiful paintings (all in the public domain, as far as I know, but please correct me if I am wrong).

One of the best known – by Fragonard.
Woman reading in landscape, by Corot.
Another dreamy summer readingscape, by Monet.
So intent on reading, this must have been a real page-turner, by Jacques-Emile Blanches
One of my earliest favourites, by Renoir.
She hasn’t got eyes for anyone but the book, leave her alone, by Matisse.
Victorian portrayals of the angel in the household on the rare evening off, by Edward John Poynter.
Blue Girl Reading by August Macke from the Blaue Reiter school of art.
American impressionism via Dutch painter Isaac Israels.


31 thoughts on “Friday Fun: Women Reading”

    1. Ah, lovely Madame Bibi delicious comment, and, alas, so true. I like to think of myself inhabiting the dappled Monet reading world – though I have to imagine some kind of soft air filled cushion, rather than hard ground, beneath the billowing frock. Otherwise, actually gnarled stony beneath tree – and perhaps atop an ants nest, might give verisimilitude to modern discomfort on a tube train!

    2. Ah, yes, especially the standing up, trying to hold on with one hand and turn the pages while holding the back with the other hand, then being jerked and pushed in the other direction…

  1. So very timely for myself, currently reading Proust (up to Volume 3 “The Guermantes Way” in the recent Penguin new translations) and there are a number of references to the society ladies reading. Thank you for the imagery to accompany my reading.

    1. Pleased I could help. Yes, this leisure activity was probably reserved to those wealthy enough to have the time to read and the money to buy books…

  2. All are beautiful. I think my favourite is the Jacques-Emile Blanches, she looks so into the book, it’s obviously an early nail-biter 🙂

  3. These are nice, but there are different types of paintings of women reading by a variety of authors in a book about “Women Reading.” I like some of those paintings very. Many are usual. Some are by the mother of Utrillo — is it Suzanne Valdon? Others are quite amazing.
    And a favorite of mine is at the time of the blog, “A Captive Reader.”

    1. There are so many wonderful pictures I could have included, you are absolutely right, and some are more unusual than others. Suzanne Valadon is indeed very interesting – I seem to remember she does a lot of self-portraits with a cat in her lap, which really brings out her own cat-like eyes. She looks a bit like Colette, to my mind.

  4. I personally think these women insisted on being depicted reading to alleviate the boredom of sitting for hours without moving. I know that’s what I would have done if I ever needed to have my portrait painted! 🌺

  5. Oh, these are lovely! I’m especially fond of impressionism, so it’s great to see the Matisse and some of the others. What a delightful Friday treat, Marina Sofia!

    1. I had this post scheduled but sadly was unable to go online to keep up with all your lovely comments and RTs. It was such a fun topic to explore and find images for!

  6. I love the Monet, you can almost smell the blossomy air, light and shade dappling the pages. And, by way of contrast, the angularity and muscularity of the Macke appeals. The reader looks good and fiercely intent. I think she is reading a challenging call to political action, or perhaps a tome on physics

    1. The setting is magical in Monet, isn’t it (although perhaps not that comfortable without a cushion)? I can’t help wondering what the books were that all these ladies were reading… I always try to sneak a peek on the Underground or the plane, which is awkward since I am short-sighted, so it becomes darn obvious…

  7. Great post and lovely paintings.

    Considering the sniffling clothes they had, reading was an activity they could manage without fainting. 🙂

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