Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Marilyn Brown

Second Advisor

James Cordova

Third Advisor

Robert Nauman


Through a social and historical examination of three modernist portraits of women--Paul Cézanne's Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, Henri Matisse's The Red Madras Headdress, and Pablo Picasso's Portrait of Gertrude Stein--this study aims to address the ways in which specific social constructions, in this case the role of "wife," inform and limit the privilege of interpretation. Positing portraiture as a social discourse, I examine European, and more specifically French, portraiture since the Renaissance, including its prescriptions for the depictions of femininity. In historical portraits of women, their individuality and identities were deferred in favor of the successful representation of their beauty and availability. Though modernism ostensibly broke with the stylistic requirements of historical portraiture, the identity of the sitter/wife was still deferred according to masculinist paradigms of power. This deferral persists in contemporary scholarship, and this project identifies and interrogates the underlying social structures that shape these ongoing deferrals.