What is a Tableau Vivant?

Naming my new chapbook was no easy endeavor. With themes of mythology and flora and navigating the confusion that is the life of an early twentysomething, my chapbook’s name had to encapsulate these themes while bringing the small collection together.

Thus, the name “Tableau Vivant” was chosen.

I first learned about a tableau vivant (Plural: tableaux vivants) in my senior year of college while studying modernism and postmodernism in American literature. A tableau vivant is a French phrase meaning “living picture.” It is a play in which no one speaks or moves, often dressed in elaborate costumes (or nude) and dramatic lighting to emulate a famous painting, photograph, or Biblical scene. Props would usually be included. A tableau would last around twenty seconds for viewers to admire and appreciate. Tableaux vivants were very popular in the Victorian era, in the high societies of England and America.

Some books that include tableaux vivants are The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

The early twenties are a confusing time to live through; I’ve often likened it to a child playing dress-up with their parents’ clothes, a juvenile tableau. Going off of this theme, the cover is a rendition of the William Bouguereau painting “Le Ravissement de Psyche.”

Ever since I learned about tableaux vivants, they have become a source of inspiration and an art form I would love to partake in. So, I did the only thing I could do: I wrote about it.

What inspires you? Is there a vintage art form that piques your interest?


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