Date of Award

5-2020

Document Type

Thesis open access

Department

Art

First Advisor

Kathryn E. O'Rourke

Second Advisor

Douglas Brine

Abstract

Jesús F. Contreras’s life-size sculpture was originally created to represent Mexico during the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition. After winning the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion of Honor at the 1900 Exhibition, Malgré Tout triumphantly returned to Mexico City, becoming the first nude, recumbent female sculpture exhibited at the Academia de San Carlos. The sculpture’s French stylistic characteristics and championship as a symbol of Mexico’s national achievement compels a closer look at Malgré Tout’s multiple locations, symbolic meanings and the distinct combination of eroticism, symbolism, gender and struggle present in the sculpture. Chapter One surveys the history of recumbent female nudes throughout western art, from antiquity until Contreras’s nineteenth-century contemporaries. This chapter also considers the theories of the male gaze put forth by Kenneth Clark, John Berger, Laura Mulvey and Linda Nochlin. Through an in-depth engagement with theorists and earlier artistic examples, I argue that gender, power and eroticism have always been implicitly linked within nude, female sculpture. However, the relationship between these three components changes when sculpture simultaneously depicts struggle. A figure’s reaction to suffering, whether active or passive, alters the erotic impact of nude, recumbent sculpture in important ways. While Malgré Tout’s formal character departs from precedents, the figure’s active resistance and defiant perseverance despite her shackles sets the sculpture apart. Chapter Two explores Contreras’s artistic training in Mexico City and Paris, underscoring the long history between the two cities. Malgré Tout’s expressive facial features, twisting body, dynamic movement, tension, and the unfinished quality of the body as it merges with the rocky surface all reflect Rodin’s stylistic tendencies. Malgré Tout became the first Latin American work of art to receive the Croix de Chevalier Award at the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition. This recognition of both Contreras and Mexico’s global impact on the Exhibition inherently linked the sculpture to an image of a modern, cosmopolitan Mexico capable of competing on a global scale with French ideology and artistic practice. Chapter Three examines how Malgré Tout’s ambiguity and distinctive characteristics contribute to the sculpture’s lasting impact in Mexican society. Exhibited in four distinct locations since its creation in 1898, interpretations of the sculpture’s potential meaning evolve with each installation. Ultimately, this project argues that Jesús F. Contreras’s Malgré Tout is not merely a titillating example of an erotic female figure. While Contreras did not challenge the eroticizing male gaze, established in part through centuries of sculptural history, the late-nineteenth century Mexican artist created a heroic nude, recumbent female figure. This argument grapples with the differing interpretations of Malgré Tout found in scholarship since the late nineteenth-century until modern times. While it is by no means a straightforward definition of the sculpture’s character, this project has tried to pull together the shifting locations, ambiguous meanings and growing body of feminist scholarship to characterize Contreras’s sculpture. By representing a conscious woman during an uncertain time in Mexico’s political and artistic history, Contreras created a sculpture capable of embodying a revolutionary spirit of perseverance, resistance and fortitude, “in spite of everything.”

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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