“Man Up! Visualizing Masculinity in the 19th-Century” Allows Viewers To Consider Masculinity

Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones. Soldiers Bathing, n.d. Oil on canvas 19 7/16 x 20 3/4 inches. Museum purchase, 1942.18.

“Man Up! Visualizing Masculinity in the 19th-Century” Allows Viewers To Consider Masculinity

Standing in a small pool of water, a man pours water on the person beside him. The water splashes onto a man cleaning his body. Next to the man rinsing himself, another man bends down, wiping his calves with a white towel. The painting by Elizabeth Sparhawk Jones, titled “Soldiers Bathing,” is part of the new exhibition called “Man Up! Visualizing Masculinity in 19th-Century America.” According to Gordon Wilkins, Associate Curator at the Addison, “Man Up!” considers the changing meanings of masculinity in American society.

“I think we are in a time period in which the idea of masculinity is really being critically examined, which is really important, but I want to show that our moment is not the only moment in which masculinity has been rewritten, or kind of the terms of masculinity or the acceptable standards of what it means to be a man, that concept is not fixed. Even though it is undergoing major revision in the 21st century, that masculinity has always been malleable or changing,” said Wilkins.

According to Wilkins, the Addison decided to have a seasonal cycle featuring three permanent collections throughout the year. “Man Up!” will be open to the public until April 5.

“We have such an amazing collection here at the Addison and always try to have it on view at some capacity at all times even though we are constantly reinstalling the gallery… So it was a great opportunity to think, look critically at our collection, bring out a diverse group of things, but then also satisfy our visitors who would want to see the more famous works in our collection… So, it’s also unique in a way that it’s able to show that you can tell current stories with the work of the past,” said Wilkins.

According to Wilkins, “Man Up!” offers viewers the opportunity to contemplate masculinity and consider how it has changed in society over time.

“The works in this show point to that change, that constant change and just how constructed or artificial our understandings of masculinity, what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what is socially acceptable for that gender, that those standards are manufactured and subject to change and have been changed in the past,” said Wilkins.