Ursidae: The Undergraduate Research Journal at the University of Northern Colorado


Sarah Blattner

Faculty Sponsor

Aaron Haberman


Notions of ideal femininity in Western culture shifted during the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era), approximately 1871 to 1914. This article serves as a comparative historical study examining the shifting representations of women in art within Western society during that era. This study focuses on the transition from the image of the “modest maiden” (popular in the mid-nineteenth century) to the image of the “new woman” (emerging within the Art Nouveau movement, 1890 to 1910). From the Art Nouveau (New Art) period, the lush art of Alphonse Mucha stands out as an example of the time’s idea of feminine beauty. Mucha’s representations serve as social commentary, indicative of the shift toward modernity. Through the employment of symbolism, archetypes, and thematic ideas, Mucha depicted women as socially empowered, participating in masculine activities and very much present in the public sphere. Mucha’s use of sensual imagery and floral motifs embody the idea of the emergence of sexually liberated women.