The 6 Types of Women You Meet in a Museum

Artists, dancers and more are all waiting to meet you at the NYC Met.

If you think that a woman’s only place in an art museum is in a framed portrait, sitting pretty and smiling coyly, you’re wrong. 

Shady Ladies tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduce visitors to countless women throughout the museum’s many galleries and they turn out to be a diverse and fascinating lot.  Some are racy, some scandalous, some ambitious, feisty or powerful. Some may even be all of the above. 

Designed by Professor Andrew Lear, the “Shady Ladies” tour blends gender, sexuality studies, art history and humor to add a new layer of excitement to familiar works like Titian’s Venus. 

A group of people in an art museum

Along with the Shady Ladies tour, there’s also the “Nasty Women” tour and the “Scandalous Secrets” tour, all created to teach you the fascinating backstories about the figures gracing the exhibit floors and fixed upon the whitewashed walls. 

Tickets for any of the tours are $59—$49 seniors, $35 students and Metropolitan Museum of Art members—and private tours are available starting at $300. A word to the wise, tickets must be purchased in advance and often sell out so if you’re interested in meeting the MET’s most eligible—and less than eligible—don’t wait until the week of. 

Curious to know what types of women you’ll meet? Here are just some of the ladies you may encounter during the tour and around the museum. 

The Goddess

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is just one of the many female deities and mythical figures on display.  This particular representation of the goddess was modeled on a famous courtesan. Shady Ladies tour

The Amazon represents a more threatening type of female power, as do the Medusa and the Sphinx.  But she is also a sexy lady:  intimidating, pitiable (because she’s dying), and half-naked all at once. Scandalous Secrets tour

The Courtesan

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott was definitely not the first woman of “great beauty but easy virtue” to have her portrait painted, nor was she the last. Courtesans and prostitutes were and continue to be a popular subject for artists from all over the world to capture in their medium of choice including; woodblock printmaking from Japan, pastels from France and oils from Italy to name a few. Shady Ladies tour

Madame de Pompadour

The Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was more than King Louis XV’s chief mistress—she was a patron of the arts, a style influencer, an artist herself, not to mention a powerful figure in the court and a member of the well-educated, intellectual inner circles. Not only does the museum have a sculpted bust of Pompadour, it also displays a number of pieces from her personal collection including paintings and home decor. Shady Ladies tour

The Ruler 

The MET is home to countless queens, but there may be only one female kings within the museum’s hallowed halls. Hatshepsut became pharaoh in 1479 BCE and ruled for 23 years, starting the great funerary complex in the Valley of the Kings.  Her statuary was all smashed at some time after her reign, but the Met has an entire gallery of reconstructed statues of Hatshepsut—sometimes as a man, sometimes a woman. Nasty Women tour

Gertrude Stein

The Author 

It may not be the most physically flattering portrait of Gertrude Stein, but Pablo Picasso’s oil painting of the famous writer certainly captures her gravitas. Nasty Women tour

The Dancer 

Edgar Degas’ paintings and drawings of ballerinas as well as the bronze sculpture titled “The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer,” are among the most famous dancers in art—but you’ll have to come on this tour to find out what’s hiding behind their innocent looks. If you’re searching for other female performers, there are statuettes made from terracotta, porcelain,  and even earthenware. Shady Ladies tour

The Artist

Rosa Bonheur was the great animal painter of mid-19th century Europe and a favorite of Queen Victoria’s.  She was also a lesbian and a cross-dresser, and she puts herself, in men’s clothing, right in the middle of her massive painting of a Horse Fair, looking out at the viewer with something very like a smirk.  Scandalous Secrets tour.

The MET’s collection definitely isn’t lacking in XX chromosomes, and the two hour tour will bring you up close and personal with many of the museum’s most intriguing ladies.