La Dame au pantin

Created to illustrate Son Altesse la femme by Octave Uzanne, La Dame au Pantin (Woman with a puppet) is a graphic example of the themes that characterize the work of Félicien Rops (1833-1898). In tune with end of the 19th century anxieties, the artist set out to illustrate female domination through extremely striking images. This dislocated puppet, devoid of any resistance in the woman’s hands, is one of the best examples. The drawing marks a turning point in Rops’s work because it is scattered with symbolic and mythological motifs, thus placing it in the symbolist sphere of influence.

Today, La Dame au Pantin is kept at the Félicien Rops Museum in Namur, which was formerly the artist’s home. The drawing is exhibited alongside earlier versions.

Artistic language highly charged with symbolism

In her right hand, the woman lifts up a rag doll that symbolizes contemporary man whilst her left hand clutches a blood-covered dagger. The puppet’s disembowelled body evokes the female, with Rops once more suggesting female domination. From the puppet’s wounds fall gold coins, symbolising indecent relationships between men and women. Below, we see the bowl of original sin, at the foot of which is seated a jester holding his macabre bauble. However, although dressed as a jester, his wings indicate that he is in fact the little Eros, but it is Death that he holds in his hands, not the traditional arrows of love. The drawing is thus a representation of contemporary love and also provides an answer to the question Ubi Mulier? (Where is woman? – a question about the very nature of woman). Every element seems to stress man’s humiliation and enslavement by womankind.

Puppets as a favourite theme

Various puppets feature in parallel in the work of Félicien Rops: man as woman’s puppet, woman as the Devil’s puppet; the puppets in the bas-relief on the other hand are the puppets of Death, whilst even Love, disguised as a puppet, plays with a jester’s head. As the Devil’s puppet, woman thus manipulates man, whilst in fact they are both the puppets of madness and death.

Website Félicien Rops Museum

Further information about the Heritage Fund (in French)

Type: 
Drawing
Material / technique: 
Watercolours and coloured pencil on paper
Dimensions: 
38,5 x 26,5 cms
Type of acquisition: 
Heritage Fund Acquisition
Year of acquisition: 
1997
Depository institution: 
Musée Félicien Rops, Namur