Some of the prints, drawings, and photographs in the exhibition are displayed conventionally, with their backs to the wall. These works tell a different "backstory:" the human back. Depicting the figure in this way engages the expressive and aesthetic potential of these pictures, activating the human back as a vehicle for formal experimentation and social commentary.
The female back in these works is an object of intimate observation, as the viewer catches glimpses of women conversing or bathing in private. The confrontation with the male back, on the other hand, renders the figures anonymous and distant—as solitary workers isolated within their urban and rural landscapes.
At the same time, focusing on the figure's back can abstract or aestheticize the human form. Seen from behind, Vuillard's figures become colorful, patterned shapes that merge into the background. The back of Emerson's worker assumes the flat tones of the dark landscape, creating a massive silhouette against the light sky.
Édouard Vuillard, Landscapes and Interiors: The Two Sisters-
Edgar Degas, After the Bath–Small Plate, c. 1891–92
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