Intimacy is Dumas’ method of representation. Early in her career Dumas developed an affinity for close-up portraits in which an isolated subject is scaled to overwhelm the canvas against an otherwise neutral background. Amidst hazy hues and washes of translucent color there are sharp and unwavering focal points, typically the eyes, which render the subject of the painting an active participant in any attempt at observation. This style holds true in Angelique; visibly wide brushstrokes of black paint construct the background while contrasting with the diaphanous white wash of the figure’s skin. The inextricable expression, defined by sharp lines of pink, is an animating force that pulls the figure and the spectator closer, creating a relationship of immediate intimacy.
The inscription on the reverse, Ingres 1819, is a reference to a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, titled Roger Freeing Angelica, portraying a damsel caught in the midst of battle between a heroic savior and a snarling beast. The subject of the work, an exposed and vulnerable woman beseeching protection, speaks to the tropes of Western Art. Fascinated by the inherent vulnerability of the static focal point, Dumas sought to subvert the canonical precedent by bestowing power upon the historically powerless figure: “In tackling… [historical] representation of sexuality…Dumas turns the Western convention of the nude on its head, literally and conceptually” (ibid, p. 41). By adjusting the scope of the canvas, Dumas brings the previously passive muse to the forefront, leveling the balance of power between the spectator and subject. Angelique achieves authority by appropriating and amplifying the projections of the viewer; she performs the expected role of a docile figure, occupying the symbolic mandate of a complacent and pliable subject by literally bending over backwards in submission. Starkly and brazenly, the magnified expression forces the viewer to reckon with their expectations, allowing Angelique a moment of triumph. Agency is finally returned to the muse.
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