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Mary Cassatt knew that staring is rude.

If you are going to rubberneck your way through life, you best be good at it or face the possibility of being labeled as a voyeur. The man in the background is toeing that fine line between playful flirtation and peeping tom. I guess the opera isn’t his thing, because it seems that this mysterious man has found the lady in Cassatt’s painting a bit more tantalizing. Am I the only one getting these creepy vibes? I mean he has binoculars for God's sake. For some reason (ahem, sexism) the art history books never seem to mention that he's being a total perv.

This was Cassatt’s first painting to be exhibited in the US and it was a huge success. Critics even called it “striking” and claimed, “she surpassed the strength of most men”. While I should be rejoicing about this outward praise for a strong female artist, it just makes my inner feminist squirm. You mean women can paint as well as men?! I guess this was a groundbreaking concept in the 1870s.

Those were different times, though. Women were allowed to go to the opera, but they had to be escorted by a male chaperone. While hitting up the opera isn’t exactly the hip thing to do on a Friday night nowadays, back in the late 1800s, this was all the rage. The opera house was the centerpiece of the new modern Paris. People attended the opera more as a social event than to actually appreciate the music. It was the place to see and be seen. 'Da club, if you will.

And that is definitely what is happening in this painting. We know who the man is skeezing on, but what is this woman in black looking at? Probably not the stage, since the lights are on. People have speculated that she may be staring at another women, either passing judgment on her attire or perhaps lusting after her (oh la la). Either way, this painting leaves me wondering why we have such a fascination with others and insist on staring and judging everything they do. Oh wait, that’s what I have been doing to everyone in this painting. And perhaps that’s Cassatt’s point. 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about In the Loge

In The Loge, also known as At The Opera, is an 1878 Impressionist painting by the American artist Mary Cassatt. The oil-on-canvas painting is currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which also holds a preliminary drawing for the work. The painting displays a bourgeois woman at the opera house looking through her opera glasses, while a man in the background looks at her. The woman's costume and fan make clear her upper class status. Art historians see the painting as commentary on the role of gender, looking, and power in the social spaces of the nineteenth century.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about In the Loge