Canons of beauty have changed over time in accordance with the tastes and preferences of different cultures and generations. Ancient Greek art, for instance, promoted an archetype of the human body with specific proportions they considered “ideal.” Édouard Manet’s Before the Mirror (1876), which portrays an intimate scene of a woman observing herself in the mirror, shows the model of female beauty that reigned in Europe in the late 19th century, characterized among other things by an extremely narrow waist, achieved in this case with the help of a corset. The fin de siècle in Paris was a moment of change and transition toward modern life. Manet was among those artists who not only engaged with contemporary fashion but also was daring in his depiction of private space. His model’s state of partial undress and exposed flesh subverts the classical nude. What notions of beauty for women and men exist in the 21st century and who sets those criteria?

Édouard Manet
Before the Mirror (Devant la glace)1876
Oil on canvas
93 x 71.6 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser 78.2514.27
Photo: © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York (SRGF)

Foto 4

Women smiling
Blend Images/Getty Images