Progress update: feminist paper doll costumes from art history

dolls_women artists and children
Self portraits by female artists (Paula Modersohn-Becker, Frida Kahlo, Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun)

Lately I have been fascinated (anew and again) by the subtext of self portraits.  Quite a few refer directly to traditional female roles.  I read this both as sincere (as in the case of Modersohn-Becker’s self-portrait) and strategic (Vigee-Lebrun’s “see what a good artist I am, but patronize me anyway because I’m a good mother”).*

Others emphasized their authority as fine artists.  This included body language and a lot of props.  This would seem less surprising if not for the sheer number of female artists’ self-portraits that excluded any hint of artistic activity.

female self-portraits
Self-portraits by artists who happened to be female-bodied and wanted to present themselves as art professionals (Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Judith Leyster, and Marie-Denise Villers)

This trio always begs the question:  would anyone have really worn such clothes for art-making?  Really?  A huge ruff, a voluminous satin skirt, or a white dress?  These choices contradict the main assertion of the paintings, and therefore seem to suggest inner schism or conflict.


A project so heavy on appropriation feels like it should be easier than this.  In truth, deciding how to group and curate these appropriations takes a long time to think through.

Even this gentle sort of caricature doesn’t come easily to me.

doll avatars

* Yes, these are harsh oversimplifications.  Please keep in mind that this project is about art history as it affects or is understood by present-day individuals.  This has elements of and respect for academic research, but it is something different.