It's anyone's guess as to the worth of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collections, but some experts estimate the value to be about $400 billion, possibly more. "The Met," as it is fondly called by New Yorkers, receives around 5 million visitors per year, many of whom are dazzled by the sheer number of priceless items on display dating from every phase of human civilization. Now, you can make your visit to the Met more enjoyable and entertaining with a tour guided by Professor Andrew Lear of Shady Ladies Tours.
Shady Ladies Tours decodes some of the most gorgeous canvases to reveal the identities of their female subjects: aristocrats, social climbers, courtesans, mistresses, and others who were envied and adored for their beauty, wealth, or powers of seduction. Lear's new tour, Scandalous Seductions, uncovers the hidden meanings in famous works of art to reveal the secret world of ambition, affairs, and sexy subtexts that were scandalous then and in some cases, are even more so now.
These two-hour art tours are much more than walking history lessons: They are conversational, gossipy, fascinating exposés of history as it happened, from someone in the know. The exceedingly knowledgeable, affable, and good-humored Professor Lear regales participants with the intersection of high art and society, scandal and sex, with plenty of titillating tidbits in between.
For example, did you know that large wine cups or kylix from the 5th century B.C. in Greece often depicted Dionysian erotica, such as racy encounters between satyrs and women? Some even depicted dedications to same-sex amour. "The Greeks provide so many examples of what we could consider scandalous, but it wasn't to them," says Lear. "One wine vessel depicts a typical male-male courtship scene, set in a gymnasium, and they're reaching for each other's wrists, and the inscription above it says 'The boy is beautiful.' "
Learn how more recent portraits of beautiful women go beyond functioning as tributes to the fairer sex. Often they had more to do with revealing or concealing court intrigue or scandalous love affairs. For example, a painting from Napoleonic France by François Gérard depicts Princess Catherine de Talleyrand and hints at the princess's sexual proclivities and past more than at her newly respectable and royal status.
Or take the "Portrait of Madame X" by John Singer Sargent (below), which depicts a young American socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, a French banker.
Madame Gautreau became notorious in Parisian high society for her obvious beauty and her exploitation of it. It is said that she wore lavender powder to create a deliberately dramatic complexion, and yet in this painting her ears are red, as though burning from the rumors of her many infidelities. Her scandalous reputation is embodied in this portrait in which she wears a black satin dress with jeweled straps, and stands as though both inviting the male gaze and dismissing it. This painting also scandalized Sargent when he entered it in the Paris Salon of 1884. It did not help build his career as a portrait painter in Paris, which he had intended, although it did gain him some notoriety and eventually a following in England and America.
Find out more about shady ladies and scandalous seductions and book your tour here!