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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sneak Peek from the Stacks: Tableau Vivant

Left: American Artists' Club of Munich members in a tableau vivant of a Rembrandt painting, from Otto Bacher papers.
Right: the original painting, image from Wikimedia Commons.
As a cataloger it is my job to do a thorough examination of the items that I catalog, and sometimes this leads me down a tangential rabbit hole of information. For example, I recently cataloged a photograph of members of the American Artists' Club of Munich performing a tableau vivant (French for "living picture") of a painting by Rembrandt. My curiosity was piqued by the thought that this is what these young ex-pat artists did for fun in Munich (forget the biergarten, guys, let's do a tableau vivant!) and I wanted to learn more. First, I looked up the original painting, which fortunately has been digitized, to see how their version compared (the original is at the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis). Next, I skimmed the history of tableaux vivants, where I learned that they were especially popular in 19th century theater when censorship dictated that actresses could only be nude onstage if they remained perfectly still. Then, in the course of writing this blog post I did a google search for "living paintings" which led me to the striking work of contemporary DC artist Alexa Meade.

So now it's your turn. Head over to our Collections Search Center and see where the rabbit hole takes you.

- Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian, Archives of American Art.


  1. Very amusing of those American Artists' Club members!

    Isn't Alexa Meade something else? Her work deservedly receives much attention.

  2. "Staging a tableau vivant" is now #1 on my list of Things To Try At My Next Party.