The cleavage, a historical conflict!

It is a small affair, one of those nothings at all in the news, a tiny affair, which summons the moral order and especially the incessant negotiations to which it is the object, to the dismay of its fierce defenders. It was last week in Paris:

A young woman was therefore banned from entering the Musée d’Orsay because her outfit violated the sacredness of the temple of the French pictorial genius of the 19th century.

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Extract from CNews journal, 09/09/2020

Bertrand Tillier, historians of images, was indignant on Twitter at the “bewildering” nature of this event which took place “in a museum where the naked or naked body is exhibited in a number of rooms”, starting perhaps with The origin of the world by Gustave Courbet who has ceased to cause scandal for some time now. But this vertiginous cleavage was to upset the order of the place for a long time, since a few days later a group of Femen planted themselves with bare chests in the said museum, repeating the slogan: “my breasts are not obscene” to denounce an obsolete sexism . The sensitive souls among the visitors present that day were probably finished once and for all. In the meantime, the management of the establishment had nevertheless offered all possible excuses to the battered visitor, and the parties in presence had left in the best possible conditions. The case makes us smile today and that’s good because in the century to which the Musée d’Orsay is dedicated, the depth of a cleavage could lead you to court. The historian Corinne Legoy tells the story of this trial in the review Practical modes, a judicial duel around the standards of modesty.

Baroness de Korf had refused to pay seamstress Delphine Baron for the order of costumes for her daughters who were to attend the prestigious masked ball of the Duke of Morny on March 2, 1859. The seamstress claimed her due and argued with support of his lawyer that this cleavage was doing very well on “the boulevard”, the “boulevard du Crime” for his contemporaries, where were played every evening, in its many theaters, the melodramas which were favored by all social classes of the Second Empire. The defense of the baroness was indignant at the bar, I quote: “It would be done with French grace, and French TASTE, if the seamstresses made the law”! It was very poorly knowing the circulation of practices and fashions, and the vitality of social change through uses.

This futile affair of rags, apparently, reveals to us the violence of class relations under the Second Empire at a time when a crucial battle is being fought:

the dispossession of the nobility of its status as arbiter of taste by the world of couture. Clothing becomes the object of a fierce struggle, of the conflict between the company of the Ancien Régime and that which is about to replace it, yet without violence.

At the Musée d’Orsay last week, history caught up with us by the collar: the neckline was once again a subject of tension in the public space.

In 1859, the cleavage had lost the battle, and the seamstress was condemned to pay compensation to the baroness without obtaining payment of her bill. Today the cleavage visitor of the Musée d’Orsay emerges victorious from this tension, around the coexistence of systems of standards in the public space.

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