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The Red Shoes

September 29, 2009

Red shoes have always had a magnetic power over me so it made me wonder what it is that makes them so alluring

A pair of red shoes can upgrade the simplest outfit into something sophisticated but they also can easily make you look common if you are not careful.  As if they had a power of their own…

Intrigued by the enigmatic nature of the red shoes I decided to look into symbolism as I often find that the layers of meaning can shape our perception of the simplest objects.

It seems that my initial controversial thoughts had some ground as I found out that the motif of red shoes appears as a positive and negative force in different contexts.

Hans Christian Andersen tells the tale of a young girl called Karen, who is adopted by a rich old lady. But she is not happy as this is not her natural environment. So when she becomes the owner of a beautiful pair of red shoes, they soon become the only joy of her life. And before Karen realizes it, she is a slave to the shoes, they take her dancing through forests and meadows and she has no control to stop them of change their direction. In the end she chooses to cut off her longs to get rid of the curse. Frankly, this tale almost made me weep…

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the American poet and psychoanalyst interprets an earlier version of the fairy tale in a rather shocking way. According to her, the red shoes are a symbol of obsession and vanity which can get hold of us after a long period of ”soul starvation”, which means living in a situation that is not natural to us. So we grab the first opportunity which promises a way out and become victims of a vicious circle.

At the same time, Dorothy in the 1939 version of the movie The Wizard of Oz is wearing ruby slippers which represent her ”inner sparkle”.

So, it seems, red shoes do have a double nature, depending on how you ”wear” them

As I was  looking for additional meanings of red shoes I found a lot of answers in the way Ursula Klinger, a German born artist who now works in Dublin, represents the symbol of red shoes in her paintings. She captures the more subtle meanings of the motif.

In Boatmen’s Tale the red shoe seems to be out of context, as if watching from outside. The painting suggests some hidden story of being an outsider, of waiting, of the contrast of female and male world.

Boatmen's Tale (Howth, Dublin)

Boatmen's Tale (Howth, Dublin)

In Headlights I see open danger, exposure and naked vulnerability.

Headlights (Dublin)

Headlights (Dublin)

And in Streetwise the timeless and elegant red shoe lends an interesting contrast to the graffiti motif, adding a modern edge to the image.

Streetwise (Dublin)

Streetwise (Dublin)

In all 3 paintings it is always a pair less shoe

I am aware the I barely scratched the surface of all the possible interpretations and meanings of the topic but my purpose was to communicate a general idea and maybe give some inspirations for further thoughts…

I would love to hear you comments if you have any ideas!

Now, on a more shallow note, here is my collection of red shoes…

Red Shoe

Red Shoe - femme fatale

Red shoe - quirky pumps

Red shoe - quirky pumps


Red Shoe - elegant

Red Shoe - elegant

Red Shoe - killer heels

Red Shoe - killer heels

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