- This generic term refers to a scene (usually short) establishing location, atmosphere, or period, but a tableau is usually thought of as a picture or image presenting something like a living fresco. The expression "hold picture," which literally indicates the idea of freezing action into an appealing image, is used interchangeably with tableau. A related term is tableau vivant, which involves performers frozen in decorous positions like a living painting. These were particularly popular in society, as described in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, as well as in musicals and revues between 1880 and 1930.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.