Humanities and Arts

Art in Tights: Tableaux Vivants as Commercial Entertainment in Sweden and Finland, 1840–1860

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In the 1840s, Sweden and Finland were hit by a minor craze for living pictures or tableaux vivants as commercial entertainment. For the price of a ticket, the public could experience the staging, by live actors, of work of arts from antiquity and contemporary sculptors such as Canova and Thorvaldsen. Making strong claims of artistic value, based on the aesthetic theory of Winckelmann and the artistic practice of artists such as Canova, the performances raise interesting questions of how aesthetics worked when set in a commercial framework. The article discusses the problem of beauty faced by entertainers and spectators when art was reenacted for money. The experience of beauty was central to aesthetic theory and to living pictures. However, it remains unclear whether commercial living pictures was about beauty in art or about good-looking women. A possible conclusion is that it was about both, and that the aesthetic theory behind the tableaux was a theory created for a male visual culture, in which the male gaze’s consumption of female bodies was self-evident while dressed in arguments of truth and beauty, confirming a social order in which a certain right look was ascribed to men.