The Ideal Woman

Educator Joseph Loh looks for the ideal woman throughout the Museum's collection, from Queen Victoria to Madame X.

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Sometimes my ideal woman
is the woman you don't
actually see.

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  • Joseph Loh
    1280852
  • Georgia O'Keeffe  |  1918  |  Alfred Stieglitz (American)  |  Platinum print  |  Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.25)
    8141024
  • Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer  |  3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Bronze  |  Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    6611024
  • Head of a Ptolemaic queen  |  ca. 270–250 b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Marble  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christo G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002 (2002.66)
    8191024
  • Pandora  |  ca. 1914  |  Odilon Redon (French)  |  Bequest of Alexander M. Bing, 1959 (60.19.1)
    4431024
  • Female Dancer  |  Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.  |  China  |  Earthenware with slip and pigments  |  Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    6991024
  • Female Dancer  |  Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.  |  China  |  Earthenware with slip and pigments  |  Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    5771024
  • Gertrude Stein  |  1905–6  |  Pablo Picasso (Spanish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106)  |  © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    8291024
  • Gertrude Stein  |  1905–6  |  Pablo Picasso (Spanish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106)  |  © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    8591024
  • Queen Victoria  |  1838  |  Thomas Sully (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Lent by Mrs. Arthur A. Houghton Jr. (L.1993.45)
    6351024
  • Princesse de Broglie  |  1851–53  |  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.186)
    7711024
  • Princesse de Broglie  |  1851–53  |  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.186)
    1092971
  • Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)  |  1883–84  |  John Singer Sargent (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    5261024
  • The Artist's Mother: Head and Bust, Three-Quarters Right  |  Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch)  |  Etching  |  Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.72)
    9661024
  • Woman Seen from the Back  |  ca. 1862  |  Onèsipe Aguado (French)  |  Salted paper print from glass negative  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.1)
    8631024
  • Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode)  |  Momoyama period, late 16th century  |  Japan  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
    1280554
  • Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode)  |  Momoyama period, late 16th century  |  Japan  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
    1280895
  • Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode)  |  Momoyama period, late 16th century  |  Japan  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
    1280997
  • Joseph Loh
    1280852
  • My name is Joseph Loh, and I'm an educator here at the museum. About two years ago I married my ideal woman. Of course I ask permission from her to do anything, and fortunately today she gave me permission to talk about the ideal woman.

  • I suppose there's no one way to define the ideal woman. She can be anything from

  • a silent dancer caught in mid-pose to the powerful

  • intellectual, well read, and artistic. But the ideal woman can also be someone

  • who's just a memory or an essence, or a figment of someone's imagination.

  • This Female Dancer is Chinese. It's a small figurine, and her pose is quite dramatic. She reflects to me this notion of eternity.

  • If I was hoping to be buried with sculptural figures I wouldn't want stuffy soldiers or warriors or other people of rank, but rather I would like to have someone like her. She can give me solace, she can provide me with some comfort through the afterlife.

  • Gertrude Stein embodies in many respects the ideal woman. What makes this intriguing for me is her mask-like face. I think for so many people who lived in the circle of artists and writers in Paris during that time,

  • Gertrude Stein provided patronage and friendship, and she was such an important influence in their lives.

  • When I think of the ideal woman, one quality that comes to mind is that of grace. Queen Victoria is so majestic. You see her ascending up the steps, about to take her throne. We have so many images of Queen Victoria after her husband Albert's death. We imagine her as being this plump old lady dressed in black, but here, she's young and radiant and her whole life is before her.

  • Princesse de Broglie is my ideal woman for a very interesting reason. I look at her dress, I look at her skin, I look at the jewels that she wears, but what makes this so powerful to me, it's not the surface of the painting, but rather the memory that it evoked, because the Princesse de Broglie died when she was 35. I had learned that her husband had this portrait painted of her

  • and he hid this painting behind curtains, and he would only view her during times in which he wanted to remember her. So for her husband, she was the ideal woman that he did not want to share with anyone else. I often go through the museum looking for paintings that surprise me.

  • Madame X. She stands, glancing off to the right, waiting for her husband to enter, her lover, perhaps, or just demanding to see where the waiter is with the next glass of champagne. But her white alabaster skin, contrasting with her black velvet dress, her pose gives this impression that she was just talking to me a moment ago and then something else that's more important stepped into the room. It's as if the ideal woman has left me and I'll never be able to gain her back.

  • I love my mom, and if I had to draw a picture of her, I wonder what she would look like. Here in this etching, Rembrandt has captured so many facets of his mother's personality. Even though she looks a little bit tired, you can still capture that sense of love and tenderness and devotion, and you can see that she probably had a very close relationship with her son.

  • Sometimes my ideal woman is the woman you don't actually see. This photograph by Aguado is perhaps one of the most arresting portraits. We have to imagine what her face might look like: whether she's frowning or smiling, or if her eyes are blue or gray or brown. So it leaves so much to the imagination. When I was in graduate school I majored in Japanese art, and I think of all the paintings that I studied, my favorite is a type that's known as

  • tagasode or "whose sleeves?" When you look at this pair of screens, there is no woman depicted but rather her kimono robes. We can look at the robes that she

  • was wearing, the robes that she will be wearing.

  • So this perhaps is the most powerful expression of what the ideal woman is, because it embodies so much of what she is, without actually having her in the image.

  • 1997.61.25
    Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918, Alfred Stieglitz (American), Platinum print Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.25)
  • 1972.118.95
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer, 3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Bronze Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
  • 2002.66
    Head of a Ptolemaic queen, ca. 270–250 b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christo G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002 (2002.66)
  • 60.19.1
    Pandora, ca. 1914, Odilon Redon (French) Bequest of Alexander M. Bing, 1959 (60.19.1)
  • 1992.165.19
    Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c., China, Earthenware with slip and pigments Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
  • 47.106
    Gertrude Stein, 1905–6, Pablo Picasso (Spanish), Oil on canvas Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106) © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • L.1993.45
    Queen Victoria, 1838, Thomas Sully (American), Oil on canvas Lent by Mrs. Arthur A. Houghton Jr. (L.1993.45)
  • 1975.1.186
    Princesse de Broglie, 1851–53, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French), Oil on canvas Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.186)
  • 16.53
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
  • 18.72
    The Artist's Mother: Head and Bust, Three-Quarters Right, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch), Etching Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.72)
  • 2005.100.1
    Woman Seen from the Back, ca. 1862, Onèsipe Aguado (French), Salted paper print from glass negative Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.1)
  • 29.100.493-4
    Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode), Momoyama period, late 16th century, Japan, Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
  • Georgia O'Keeffe, 1918, Alfred Stieglitz (American), Platinum print Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.25)
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer, 3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Bronze Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    Head of a Ptolemaic queen, ca. 270–250 b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christo G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002 (2002.66)
    Pandora, ca. 1914, Odilon Redon (French) Bequest of Alexander M. Bing, 1959 (60.19.1)
    Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c., China, Earthenware with slip and pigments Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    Gertrude Stein, 1905–6, Pablo Picasso (Spanish), Oil on canvas Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106) © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Queen Victoria, 1838, Thomas Sully (American), Oil on canvas Lent by Mrs. Arthur A. Houghton Jr. (L.1993.45)
    Princesse de Broglie, 1851–53, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French), Oil on canvas Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.186)
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    The Artist's Mother: Head and Bust, Three-Quarters Right, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch), Etching Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.72)
    Woman Seen from the Back, ca. 1862, Onèsipe Aguado (French), Salted paper print from glass negative Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.1)
    Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode), Momoyama period, late 16th century, Japan, Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Georgia O'Keeffe
    1918
    Alfred Stieglitz (American)
    Platinum print
    Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.25)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer
    3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic
    Greek
    Bronze
    Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    On view: Gallery 163
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Head of a Ptolemaic queen
    ca. 270–250 b.c.; Hellenistic
    Greek
    Marble
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, The Bothmer Purchase Fund, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener, The Concordia Foundation and Christo G. Bastis Gifts and Marguerite and Frank Cosgrove Jr. Fund, 2002 (2002.66)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Pandora
    ca. 1914
    Odilon Redon (French)
    Bequest of Alexander M. Bing, 1959 (60.19.1)
    Not on view
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Female Dancer
    Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.
    China
    Earthenware with slip and pigments
    Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    On view: Gallery 207
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Gertrude Stein
    1905–6
    Pablo Picasso (Spanish)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 (47.106)
    © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    On view: Gallery 830
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Queen Victoria
    1838
    Thomas Sully (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Lent by Mrs. Arthur A. Houghton Jr. (L.1993.45)
    On view: Gallery 756
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Princesse de Broglie
    1851–53
    Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.186)
    On view: Gallery 957
    The Robert Lehman CollectionFirst Floor
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)
    1883–84
    John Singer Sargent (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    On view: Gallery 771
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    The Artist's Mother: Head and Bust, Three-Quarters Right
    Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch)
    Etching
    Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.72)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Woman Seen from the Back
    ca. 1862
    Onèsipe Aguado (French)
    Salted paper print from glass negative
    Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.100.1)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Whose Sleeves? (Tagasode)
    Momoyama period, late 16th century
    Japan
    Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper
    H. O. Havemeyer collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.493–4)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art