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Mary Cassatt, In the Loge, 1878, oil on canvas, 81.28 x 66.04 cm / 32 x 26 inches (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

In nineteenth century France, the gaze of the observer—whether on Napoleon's grand new boulevards or in the opera—was very much structured by issues of economic status. Mary Cassatt's remarkable painting In the Loge (c. 1878-79) clearly shows the complex relationship between the gaze, public spectacle, gender, and class privilege.

Cassatt was a wealthy American artist who had adopted the style of the Impressionists while living in Paris. Here she depicts a fashionable upper-class woman in a box seat at the Paris opera (as it happens, the sitter is Cassatt's sister, Lydia). Lydia is shown holding opera glasses up to her eyes; but instead of tilting them down, as she would if she were watching the performance below, her gaze is level. She peers straight across the chamber perhaps at another member of the audience. Look closely and you will notice that, in turn, and in one of the boxes across the room, a gentleman is gazing at her. Lydia is then, in a sense, caught between his gaze and ours even as she spies another.

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Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.