Guys' Deux femmes aux manchons: Our drawing of the week

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2013, for one morning per week, you can see a print or drawing from our collection in the intimate setting of our Print Study Room. Next up is Constantin Guys’ ‘Deux femmes aux manchons‘.

Emily Rothrum, MA student at The Courtauld Institute of Art, explains why she chose this drawing and what it means to her. You can see the drawing for yourself on Monday 9 December, 10:30 – 1:30.

Guys deux femmes

Constantin Guys, Deux femmes aux manchons (Two women with muffs)

I am currently pursuing my MA in 20th Century Sculpture at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

This work was part of Samuel Courtauld’s collection, and I chose it not only for its winter theme, but because I have always had an interest in nineteenth-century French culture.

As an undergraduate, I studied French and Art History, and Guys’ Deux femmes aux manchons reminded me of a favorite poem by Baudelaire, À une passante, in which he describes the passing beauty of a woman in the street.

Donning sumptuous muffs and voluminous coats, two ladies take a wintertime stroll, their slanting shadows suggesting the late afternoon.

Rendered hastily with rich, inky blacks and blues, the drawing is a sketchy depiction of a passing moment.

Deux femmes aux manchons is typical of Constantin Guys’ work. Heralded by Charles Baudelaire as the painter of modern life par excellence, Guys employed the fleeting and the everyday as his subject matter.

Working quickly and prolifically, he depicted the various figures, fashions, and scenes of modernity as they played out in the street.

Here, in a manner akin to nineteenth-century fashion plates, Guys carefully depicts the women’s costumes, including their various trimmings (bows, veils, muffs, etc.) and registering the flounce of a skirt and subsequent flash of an ankle.

Guys traveled widely, but his portrayals of Paris, and particularly of Parisian women, are his most renowned. A sort of flâneur, Guys soaked up what Baudelaire calls the “fantastic reality of life.”