Magazine article Tate Etc.

We Can Still Bankrupt Ourselves for Love

Magazine article Tate Etc.

We Can Still Bankrupt Ourselves for Love

Article excerpt

The British photographer Chris Shaw delves into a dark, enigmatic painting in Tate's collection - William Rothenstein's The Doll's House (1899-1900). It is a work that reminds him of his time as a hotel night porter, about which he has made a celebrated series that will be included in a display of his images at Tate Britain

There are two great slashes of deep dark black that cut across the wonderful vertical picture plane of William Rothenstein's obscure painting The Doll's House. It is an amorphous blackness in which you could imagine yourself losing everything-your position in society, your security, your entitlement... your soul.

In the picture we see a couple at the bottom of a staircase. A woman sits on the stairs conforming to the pictorial signs of the "fallen woman". She averts her face from the (male) gaze of the viewer, unlike our male figure who stares at us-challenging our interpretation of this scene. I say male gaze in the way that the feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey might, but this is a Victorian painting. And atthetime it was created, the woman depicted was, I imagine, a prostitute.

Our seducer, with his cape draped over his arm, produces a contrast in stereotypes. His attractiveness to the woman is based on his opposition to the decent Victorian middle-class notions of self-denial and duty: the moral authority and power relationship that subjugated and regulated women's behaviour within the domestic sphere of a nuclear bourgeois family-heavily established in her mind by the husband or a father. He is the sexy "other".

You are about to run away, about to find out who you really are, to find out if you can survive at the bottom of a staircase-where it meets the street and economic reality, because it's all about money and protection. And you're going to have to live without it now. But guess what. …

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