These Ladies Have Been “Throwing Shade” Since Ancient Greece

These Ladies Have Been “Throwing Shade” Since Ancient Greece


“Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d’Ognes,” by Marie Villers, part of the Shady Ladies tour that covers 18th-century French amateur lady painters to professional artists. (Courtesy Shady Ladies Tour)

We’ve all been on a museum tour full of yawn-inducing facts that have sent us daydreaming about Daenerys and the iron throne. Finally, there’s a tour that’s not only entertaining but also scandalous. The “Shady Ladies tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduces you to the women who defied their often limited stations and used not only their sex appeal, but their talents to become what we would call today ‘entrepreneurial’. These legendary women invented girl power and fought patriarchy with racy ambition. No wonder Oprah featured The “Shady Ladies” tour in this month’s O, The Oprah Magazine (Gratitude Meter: 5 Things We’re Smiling About.) This tour will change the way you see the museum—and art itself.

This tour will change the way you see the museum—and art itself.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. In addition to the “Shady Ladies” tour, there’s the “Nasty Women” tour and the “Scandalous Secrets” tour. All three challenge audiences to look beyond the paint and discover how these ladies fascinated their wealthy patrons and became muses to the artists who created some of the world’s great masterpieces.The tours last two hours and cost $59; private tours are also available starting at $300. Please note: Tickets must be purchased in advance and often sell out, so make sure to book early.

Curious to know what types of women you’ll meet? Here are a few of the ladies you may be introduced to 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 image of the goddess was modeled on a famous courtesan. Shady Ladies tour

The Courtesan

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott, immortalized by Thomas Gainsborough, 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 wood-block printmaking from Japan, pastels from France and oils from Italy, to name a few. Shady Ladies tour

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 king within the museum’s halls. Hatshepsut became pharaoh in 1479 BCE, ruled for 23 years, and started the great funerary complex in the Valley of the Kings.  Her statuary was destroyed at some point 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

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. Shady Ladies tour

The Artist

Rosa Bonheur was the great animal painter of mid-19th-century Europe and a favorite of Queen Victoria.  She also happened to be a lesbian and a cross-dresser—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



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