In the series Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 14

… Et, vertigineuse douceur!
A travers ces lèvres nouvelles,
Plus éclatantes et plus belles,
T’infuser mon venin, ma sœur!

Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal


When I entered The Van Gogh Museum through its new entrance, I considered my visit to the exhibition Easy Virtue – prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910 as a pastime. Our Ladies of ill repute, Madonna’s of the Night… There was some time to kill, at end of the afternoon I was to see Musorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina. I then did not know then that the Musée d’Orsay was its true author.

A superb exhibition, which once again proves that painting has often been an alibi to depict naked women (sometimes men) – mostly for a petit bourgeois audience, people who would not so easily and perkily throw off their own clothes.

One is also being schooled in observing paintings. Behold how Van Dongen, who was good in showing us some exciting bitches, could also paint bloody well. His Nini – solid as a rock, a body in one piece, cut from the same moral tissue.


Van Dongen: Nini 1907/8

To all appearance, Kupka seems to have had the conceit that he could emulate Van Dongen’s style. Alas, not only gives his Gallien’s Girl the impression of being decapitated, her head also seems to be screwed on a dummy, the wrong way.


Kupka: Gallien’s Girl 1909/10

One is reminded of De Chirico’s paintings with the dressmaker’s dolls:


Kupka’s uneasy easy woman also brings back to mind Scola’s Nuit de Varennes, featuring the grand scene of the chambermaid, who kneels before a dummy that is dressed in the King’s robe, his headdress askew on a head which already seems to have been guillotined.



The many exhibits of Toulouse-Lautrec are first class. Beautiful brothel scenes, tenderly depicted, magnificent whores and ditto matures. Behold this draughtsman’s report of total carnal exhaustion:



However, the sociological and medical approach of the Musée d’Orsay should not obscure the fact that even for the post-modern man and woman some images are not only painterly fine works of art, but also simply horny – or perhaps both.

One thing also becomes clear. Our Lord – if such Creator exists –lashed each era with its own scourge as far as sins of the flesh are concerned. Today it is aids. Although the other and older diseases still mix with carnal pleasures, these are now curable.

Then, in times covered by the exhibition, it was incurable syphilis: The Pox its name, a bundling of syf and gonorrhea. This disease was called by Germans and Englishmen French pox, for the Russians it was Polish illness, for Poles German disease, for the French Neapolitan disease, for the Portuguese, the North-Africans and the Dutch The Spanish disease andfor the Japanese The Chinese ulcer.

A bit like Putin once claimed that aids does not belong in Russia and therefore does not exist in that country…


Syphilis marked people, then killed them – diseased women of easy virtue in particular. After having seen all these fine paintings, such medical images take away some of the aesthetic luster of all this brilliant art.

However, you may return once more, make a second round. And there they are: Both the painting and the woman in it. What splendour!


Anquetin: Woman with veil 1891

Sierksma Haarlem 7.3.16


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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