Since the beginning of recorded history we have been held to witness the influence of women and their sexuality on mankind. As sexual creatures, humans desire each other; generally men are more inclined to be seen as the ones who “need” the physical sexual act. This “need” that men have gives women an important power and opportunity over men. By controlling sex women can basically rule the world. This idea tends to scare men because men like to be the ones in control, but at the same time this thought of powerful dominating women is a sexual turn on. These natural curiosities we all have with our bodies, and fantasies we create, led to the eventual naming of this phenomenon as the Femme Fatale, coined by the French. Prior to the term being used, the actual idea of the Femme Fatale has been around since basically the beginning of time even seen in the mythology of cultures, such as the Greek sirens. In all cases of the Femme Fatale, she is seen as being a seductive trickster whom is solely responsible for the downfall of the men she preys upon. When this theme became consciously popular in art works it was given a name. My main purpose is to eventually describe how three artists took different approaches to their own depiction of the iconic Femme Fatale and how they compare to each other. The three artists and their works I will focus on are Ernst Ludwig Kirchner with his painting Street, Berlin, Aubrey Beardsley with his illustration Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, and Edvard Munch with his painting Vampire. I will start by first giving a comprehensive overview of the meaning of the term Femme Fatale. Next, I will give a general explanation of the use of the formal elements for each artists work selected, finally, I will compare and contrast how each artist approached the same theme of the Femme Fatale through the formal elements.
The term Femme Fatale was originally coined by the French to describe a trend occurring in the art world. Translated to English, the word literally means “deadly woman.” Virginia Mae Allen describes, in her book The Femme Fatale: Erotic Icon, the Femme Fatale as being a concoction of “danger, death, eros, beauty, demonism and intent to destroy, as well as being a central figure in imagery or plot.” For me, Allen gives a perfect definition of what a Femme Fatale embodies. Allen claims, in another book of hers titled The Femme Fatale: A Study of the Concept in Mid-Nineteenth Century Poetry and Painting, that the root of the Femme Fatale or as she calls it “early development” occurred in the mid-nineteenth century. I do not agree with her on this because “deadly women” can be seen in various cultures long before the 19th century. Whether a person understands the actual term or not is not of importance because even if they are not conscious of it, the majority of people would know what one was if they were shown one, oblivious to the fact a term exists. Examples of Femme Fatales are almost a norm; they are literally on our televisions. Present day examples of the icon are present in super heroes such as Cat Woman from Batman, and Elektra the Marvel comic book character. Both are enticingly beautiful yet at the same time they menacing and dangerous. Examples in the past reach all the way back to Greek myths about sirens that their voices would draw their victims in, they are so hypnotizing, next thing the poor guy knows he is dead. When the term came along it was mostly due to the fact a fad was emerging, the artists of the time mostly consciously embracing this idea of deadly women, they were showing up as a theme in several artists works of the time starting in about 1890 through basically today. Femme Fatales had been seen before in art it was just now they were popular and had a name. It is human nature to have fantasies, there was always a market it was just people did not talk about it. One reason that the emergence of the word might of came about is due to the fact...
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