“La Belle Dame sans Merci” by Frank Dicksee, 1902
This picture is fascinating to me because of its portrayal of a powerful female character who doesn’t fall into any of the typical modern ‘Strong Female Character’ cliches.
The woman is the powerful, sexually assertive and threatening figure here, while the man is the more passive figure, visibly vulnerable to her. However, this portrayal of a woman as assertive and powerful doesn’t rely either on sexualizing her or on presenting that power in masculine ways.
This Belle Dame is traditionally feminine, drawn in flowing lines and curves. She is sexually assertive but not sexualized. The man is armed, masculine, stiff and drawn in straight, square lines - all stereotypically masculine, but his body language and expression make it obvious that he is the submissive and less powerful party here. His vulnerability is not expressed by de-masculinizing him, just as her power is not shown by making her any less feminine.
Some modern artists could stand to take lessons from Mr Dicksee.