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The Blue Beard Tableau: Fatima Enters the Forbidden Closet; What She Sees There; Disposition of the Bodies (Invisible to the Spectators)

Winslow Homer

American Art

Regarded as one of the great American Realists of the nineteenth century, Winslow Homer is known primarily for his large body of works in oil and watercolor. However, he also had an early career as a freelance illustrator, making drawings for wood engravings that were reproduced in mass-circulation periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly. In 1998, the Brooklyn Museum received a generous gift of more than 250 wood-engraved illustrations by Homer from Harvey Isbitts.

Loosely connected to the idea of literary illustration, these engravings portray how a novelty tableau vivant based on the then popular blood-curdling story of Bluebeard and his wives might have been staged. The doggerel verse by Theodore Cook reproduced on the page provides an updated rendition of the original 1697 fairy tale by Charles Perrault. Bluebeard offers the keys to his castle to his wife, warning her not to open a particular door. Unable to control her curiosity, she unlocks the door to find the six bodies of her predecessors, who had also opened the forbidden door. (Perrault’s version ends happily with the seventh wife escaping.) The popularity of the story in Homer’s time was spurred by Jacques Offenbach’s 1866 operetta Barbe-Bleue, a burlesque of the horrific tale.
MEDIUM Wood engraving
DATES 1868
DIMENSIONS Image (a): 4 1/2 x 4 5/8 in. (11.4 x 11.7 cm) Image (b): 4 x 9 1/4 in. (10.2 x 23.5 cm) Image (c): 4 3/8 x 4 5/8 in. (11.1 x 11.7 cm) Sheet: 16 1/8 x 11 in. (41 x 27.9 cm) Frame: 22 3/4 x 16 3/4 x 1 1/2 in. (57.8 x 42.5 x 3.8 cm)  (show scale)
SIGNATURE b: Signed lower left: "WH"; c: signed lower left corner of curtain: "WH"
ACCESSION NUMBER 1998.105.118a-c
CREDIT LINE Gift of Harvey Isbitts
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910). The Blue Beard Tableau: Fatima Enters the Forbidden Closet; What She Sees There; Disposition of the Bodies (Invisible to the Spectators), 1868. Wood engraving, Image (a): 4 1/2 x 4 5/8 in. (11.4 x 11.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Harvey Isbitts, 1998.105.118a-c (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1998.105.118a-c_composite_reference_SL3.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 1998.105.118a-c_composite_reference_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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