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TO AUG. 27

Ah, the Gilded Age: those languorous years between the mid-1860s and the start of World War I, a time when men returned from an inglorious war to usher in a new era of industrial strength, when the burgeoning middle class and powerful American aristocracy enjoyed the commodification of commerce and a new mobility as offered by department stores, rail travel, and sumptuous restaur—oh, the Gilded Cage, yes, well, that’s different. Eras are always defined by the lives of men, but the Corcoran’s “The Gilded Cage: Views of American Women, 1873-1921” concentrates on the lavishly appointed prison in which women, whether under the protection of their fathers or husbands, lived out male fantasies of decorative submission. Their creativity was stifled, their value defined only by their ornamental properties and high-class uselessness, even as a new era of liberation loomed on the horizon. But the period did generate some pretty pictures. Society portraitists such as John Singer Sargent immortalized the country’s most glamorous wives (Mrs. Henry White, pictured), and illustrators defined the silhouette of a generation (most famously in Charles Dana Gibson’s iconic Gibson Girl). And new realists such as Winslow Homer depicted the woman’s lot as one of limitation and drudgery, while female artists such as Mary Cassatt brought a new intimacy to depictions of mothers and children. As evidenced by this small group of paintings from the museum’s permanent collection, the artists of this time reveled in the aesthetic possibilities of this charged, shifting era. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday to Monday, and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, to Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $5. (202) 639-1700. (Arion Berger)