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Vasily Perov, 1867
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Lynn Nead comments on the meaning of images of prostitution in the mid-19th century:

“The image of the prostitute as a wretched outcast, ravaged by feelings of remorse and shame was part of this attempt to deflect the power and threat of prostitution. By defining the prostitute in terms of her guilt the question of sexual and economic exploitation was erased. Prostitution was discussed in a moral language of temptation, fall and guilt. The fallen woman was understood in terms of lost innocence. Having succumbed to temptation, and deviated from the virtuous norm, the fallen woman could not return to respectable society but was forced into a life of prostitution. Tortured by memories of her lost childhood innocence, the prostitute turned to drink to ease her conscience and suicide was the final act of this poor social victim. Through death, the prostitute could find salvation with Christ, which again comfortably removed any responsibility or guilt from respectable society. I am not arguing that this was the actual experience of prostitutes at the time, but rather this was one way in which prostitution was understood and negotiated; it was a dominant representation of the prostitute in the middle of the nineteenth century.”

Lynn Nead, “The Magdalen in Modern Times: The Mythology of the Fallen Woman in Pre-Raphaelite Painting,” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 7, no. 1 (1984): 31.

Similar Subjects by Other Artists 

Abraham Solomon, Drowned! Drowned! 1860 Royal Academy exhibition. Engraved and published in Art Journal (March 1862):73

George Frederick Watts, Found Drowned, 1867 (Watts Gallery, Compton, UK)

About the Artist

Born: Tobolsk, 2 January 1834
Died: Kuz’minki (now part of Moscow), 10 June 1882
Nationality: Russian