The Femmes Fatales Paintings
In Euripides’ play, Troades, Hekabe warns Menelaos about Helen:
"Avoid looking at her, lest she seize you with desire.
For she captures the eyes of men."
The femme fatale archetype exists in the culture, folklore and myth of many cultures. Ancient mythical or legendary examples include Kali, Lilith, Mohini, the Sirens, the Sphinx, Scylla, Aphrodite, Circe, Medea, Clytemnestra, Lesbia, Helen of Troy, and Visha Kanyas. Historical examples from Classical times include Cleopatra and Messalina, as well as the Biblical figures Delilah, Jezebel, and Salome. An example from Chinese literature and traditional history is Daji.
The femme fatale was a common figure in the European Middle Ages, often portraying the dangers of unbridled female sexuality. The pre-medieval inherited Biblical figure of Eve offers an example, as does the wicked, seductive enchantress typified in Morgan le Fay. The Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute shows her more muted presence during the Age of Enlightenment
The femme fatale flourished in the Romantic period in the works of John Keats, notably "La Belle Dame sans Merci" and "Lamia". Along with them, there rose the gothic novel, The Monk featuring Matilda, a very powerful femme fatale. This led to her appearing in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and as the vampire, notably in Carmilla and Brides of Dracula. The Monk was greatly admired by the Marquis de Sade, for whom the femme fatale symbolised not evil, but all the best qualities of Women; his novel Juliette is perhaps the earliest wherein the femme fatale triumphs. Pre-Raphaelite painters frequently used the classic personifications of the femme fatale as a subject.
This (and much more) is what wikipedia has to say about the femme fatale archetype. But, why have I created an entire series (51 of them!) around this subject?
To be totally honest, this type of woman has always intrigued me: her allure, her independence, her seductiveness. Shortly, her magic! I started studying them (and not all are as bad as they are depicted-by men, mostly). Then, slowly but steadily, THEY started pulling me towards them, then opening up the door to me...and there they were! These magical women: women of power! And, the amazing thing: not all of them were so incredibly beautiful. Cleopatra was not a beauty (in the Classical sense). However, she held Ceasar (the most powerful man of his time) under her spell.
So, here they are: The Femmes Fatales Paintings! For me, it has been a discovery and a journey: for I was introduced to my "darker side", the hidden point of strength that every woman possesses. So, this page was created with the intention to take you by the hand and guide you...and to show you my beloved Femmes Fatales and all the different ways I see them.
When I first watched the film The Troyan Women by director Michael Cacoyannis, my attention was captured by a single shot: Helen of Troy (Irene Papas) is about to be brought to her husband, Menelaos. Just before that, she insists on taking a shower. Cacoyannis used this simple act to create one of the most seductive scenes of the movie, depicting the real power Helen had over men: her eyes! He constructed a small wooden frame with spaces in-between, enough to "take a look". Then, he shows us Helen washing herself slowly and a soldier (outside) guarding her. She is fully aware of her power, so she looks directly at the eyes of the soldier: he, on the other hand, lowers his glance. For she is the forbidden fruit...
Since then, this incredible depiction of Helen of Troy (the "ultimate" femme fatale) haunts me. Whenever I think that I have finally escaped her, she just jumps out of my subconscious to demand a life of her own. She is my dream, my nightmare: the absolute symbolic figure of the power of vanity and destruction embedded withing the female psyche. And she will never let me go free: my "guardian" angel, my demon, my torturer, my curse...
In the Western culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the femme fatale became a more fashionable trope, and she is found in the paintings of the artists Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Stuck and Gustave Moreau. The novel À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans includes these fevered imaginings about an image of Salome in a Moreau painting:
No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles, – a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning.
She also is seen as a prominent figure in late nineteenth and twentieth century opera, appearing in Richard Wagner's Parsifal (Kundry), George Bizet's "Carmen", Camille Saint-Saëns' "Samson et Delilah" and Alban Berg's "Lulu" (based on the plays "Erdgeist" and "Die Büchse der Pandora" by Frank Wedekind).
In fin-de-siècle decadence, Oscar Wilde reinvented the femme fatale in the play Salome: she manipulates her lust-crazed uncle, King Herod, with her enticing Dance of the Seven Veils (Wilde's invention) to agree to her imperious demand: "bring me the head of John the Baptist". Later, Salome was the subject of an opera by Strauss, and was popularized on stage, screen, and peep-show booth in countless reincarnations.
Another enduring icon of glamour, seduction, and moral turpitude is Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, 1876–1917. While working as an exotic dancer, she took the stage name Mata Hari. Although she may have been innocent, she was accused of German espionage and was put to death by a French firing squad. After her death she became the subject of many sensational films and books.
When did she turn her face upside down? When did she start tricking me? I never saw it coming!
And now, she looks at me straight in the eyes: with this scornful look that I got to know all too well over the decades of my life. "Why did you do do this? Why didn't you do that?" And that goes on and on, daily, for years and years. And I shrink inside me, and I want to yell back: "Why did you bring me to this world? "