Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Élimination à huis clos

Élimination à huis clos

Paul Gavarni (French, 1804–1866) Elimination à huis-Clos (Elimination Behind Closed Doors), 1839 Lithograph Gift of Eugene L. Garbaty, 1951.79.156

In wealthy bourgeois homes, the day-to-day care and styl-ing of the mistress’s hair were among the many respon-sibilities of a lady’s maid. In less affluent homes, this task might fall to the maid of all work. For the more elaborate hairstyles required for evening dress and special events, a professional stylist, or coiffeur, might be called in. Here we see a lady’s maid plucking white hairs from her mistress’ head. Gavarni plays with the notion of women’s politics, showing the backroom dealings and sleights of hand of women bent on keeping up appearances. Such delicate operations as hair removal were kept squarely behind closed doors. In large cities like Paris, men and women might visit a salon épilatoire for such personal grooming. One such depilatory salon even had private entrances so that clients could, in complete anonymity, seek the services of a professional hair-plucker.