Gabriel von Max's
Gabriel von Max's "Seifenblasen (Soap Bubbles)" Jasmyne Keimig

I've never—NEVER—seen a freaking bubble in an old painting like Gabriel von Max's "Seifenblasen (Soap Bubbles)," which is currently up at the Frye. It kind of rocked my world. Of course bubbles have always been a thing. Eighteenth century artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin's "Soap Bubbles" playfully depicts a fragile bubble catching light at the end of a wand. Or this one by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo painted thirty years after Chardin's. Bubbles were a popular subject in Dutch paintings from the seventeenth century, which French artists—and eventually Max—drew inspiration from. As the Frye's wall text notes, bubbles at the time "connoted the temporal and fleeting nature of life on earth."

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The bubble in question.
The bubble in question. JK
"Seifenblasen (Soap Bubbles)" is part of a new exhibition at the Frye called Unsettling Femininity: Selections from the Frye Art Museum Collection. The show is curated out of the Frye permanent collection, bringing together mostly German and Austrian late nineteenth and early twentieth century paintings of women. The show interrogates the act of looking at these portrayals of women and how it plays into ideas surrounding power, gender, sex, morality, and purity in contemporary Western culture. The walls, it must be noted, are painted a beautiful shade of lavender.

Organized around four themes (judgment, morality, performance, and artifice), each painting is accompanied by a long-ish wall text that contextualizes the work within its time and how it relates to the theme. Max's "Seifenblasen (Soap Bubbles)," which was categorized under "artifice," is in the back gallery of the show. Depicting a woman gazing into a mirror, Cupid is perched on a wall in the background, blowing bubbles and making direct eye contact with the viewer. I'm supposed to think about the relationship between the woman and her perceived vanity, coupled with Cupid just there over her shoulder, but the bubble ensconced me.

It'll last forever. It's been here since before my grandparents were born and will be here for longer than my grandchildren. This bubble with outlast my life as a symbol of how my own life is fleeting. Amongst all that oil paint!

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