Cocottes et courtisanes : dans l’oeil des peintres (French documentary)

How the rise of prostitution in 19th century France inspired the greatest, mostly males, modern painters. This documentary is a scholarly and colorful evocation of the condition of women of the time. Courtesans, demi-mondaines, cocottes, girls of joy, dancers, lorettes, grisettes, brewery girls, drinkers, second hand… If the vocabulary designating sex workers is so rich, it’s because our language had to take the measure of a new scope the oldest profession in the world was experiencing at that time. On the rise, capitalism overturns conventions, and, in opposition to the Second French Empire obsessed with virtue, promotes the commodification of female bodies. From the courtesan to the stony, pacing the bad sidewalks of the suburbs, the image of the “light-hearted” woman is growing and diversifying.

The eye of the painters won’t fail to depict the evolving mores of Paris. These muses of a particular genre inspire new challenges to pictorial modernity. From Manet to Picasso via Degas, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, the artists who represent them break free from academic rules and find new ways to paint their subject. By revisiting certain works and the archives of the moral police, Sandra Paugam’s film explores the incandescent relationship between art and prostitution. Richly documented, Cocottes et courtisanes is as much a documentary on the condition of women as a reflection on the artistic upheavals that are linked to it. A mirror film, which exhumes the hypocrisies and blind spots of the 19th century French society.

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