Take the Shady Ladies Tour of the Metropolitan Museum

Learn more about this fun and informative 2-hour art museum tour.

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Take The Hottest Art Tour In New York City

And Learn About History's Scandalous, Feisty Women

Courtesans, royal mistresses, scandalous women of every sort—the walls of the Metropolitan Museum are lined with them, from ancient Greek hetaerae to Sargent’s Madame X. These women, famous not only for sex-appeal but also for their talents—and for a spirit which today we would call 'entrepreneurial'— fascinated both their wealthy patrons and the artists who created the world's great masterpieces. But who were they? How did they rise to their positions? And how did they maintain their prominence despite their scandalous reputations?

To find out, join us as we explore the lives and loves that lie behind the paintings. On this fun and informative 2-hour Metropolitan Museum tour, we will learn about:

  • the first nude female statue in ancient Greece and the hetaera who modeled for it
  • the oiran of the pleasure quarter of 18th century Tokyo
  • a Venetian courtesan who published books of poetry
  • the official royal mistresses of the French kings
  • a royal bastard who is the ancestor of many English aristocrats
  • and the grandes horizontales of Belle Epoque Paris

And so much more…

Come discover the racy and intriguing backstories behind the Metropolitan Museum’s collections. Shady Ladies Tours will change the way you see the museum—and art itself—forever.

Buy Online or Call 800-656-0713


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Introducing Our New Nasty Women Tour

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Tour Snapshots

Professor Andrew Lear Shady Ladies Tour Guide

John Singer Sargent, Madame X

John Singer Sargent, Madame X (Amélie Gautreau), 1884. This portrait caused a scandal at the 1884 Salon, destroying Sargent’s budding career as a fashionable portraitist in Paris and damaging Gautreau’s ascent as a famous beauty. Most scandalous was the way in which Gautreau’s right shoulder-strap hung down over her shoulder—so scandalous that Sargent repainted it after the Salon. This suggested sexual goings-on, as Gautreau’s inhuman pallor and haughty turn of the head suggested a rejection of normal human relations. This alluring and aggressive image of decadence was too much for Parisian society….

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Edgar Degas, Dancers, Pink and Green

Like most working women in 19th-century Paris, ballerinas did not earn enough to live on, and like many, they typically rounded out their income by prostitution. Ballerinas were famously beautiful, however, so this was high-class prostitution: rather than being paid for sex, ballerinas would receive gifts from a patron. Ballerinas were among Degas’ favorite topics, and he sometimes includes the patron in his paintings of them, as he does in this particularly beautiful painting, where the patron is included in silhouette, as if he were casting a shadow on the lives of these bright young girls.

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Thomas Lawrence, Elizabeth Farren

Elizabeth Farren was not a courtesan. She was however an actress—the most famous comic actress in Britain—and the mistress of an aristocrat, the Earl of Derby, so she was in a similar category. Farren had the luck of which every courtesan dreamed: the Countess died, and the Earl married her, making her the Countess of Derby. From her correspondence, it seems likely (though not provable) that she carried on a lengthy lesbian affair with the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer.

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