The new face of maternal love

The new face of maternal love


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  • Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie, known as Julie (1780-1819)

    VIGÉE LE BRUN Élisabeth Louise (1755 - 1842)

  • Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, known as Julie (1780-1819)

    VIGÉE LE BRUN Élisabeth Louise (1755 - 1842)

  • Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children

    VIGÉE LE BRUN Élisabeth Louise (1755 - 1842)

To close

Title: Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie, known as Julie (1780-1819)

Author : VIGÉE LE BRUN Élisabeth Louise (1755 - 1842)

Creation date : 1786

Date shown: 1786

Dimensions: Height 105 cm - Width 84 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on wood

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux

Picture reference: 12-548336 / INV. 3069

Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie, known as Julie (1780-1819)

© RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux

To close

Title: Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, known as Julie (1780-1819)

Author : VIGÉE LE BRUN Élisabeth Louise (1755 - 1842)

Creation date : 1789

Date shown: 1789

Dimensions: Height 130 cm - Width 94 cm

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Tony Querrec

Picture reference: 15-523297 / INV. 3068

Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, known as Julie (1780-1819)

© RMN - Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Tony Querrec

Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children

© Palace of Versailles, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

Publication date: October 2015

Historical context

In 1786, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun produced a self-portrait with her daughter, exhibited at the Salon of 1787. The painting touches the public so much by the veracity of the feelings represented which it is quickly nicknamed Maternal tenderness. In the wake of this success and at the request of the Count of Angiviller, general manager of the King's Buildings, the artist painted in 1789 an equally famous variant in Greek costume.

If these two portraits are striking in their time, it is because they crystallize the change that then takes place in mentalities concerning the place of the mother and the conception of maternal love. Since the middle of the century, there has been a global craze for everything related to "nature": unprecedented development of natural sciences, interest in the life of "wild" populations discovered during exploratory trips around the globe, questioning of concepts of society and education by a philosopher like Jean-Jacques Rousseau - in theEmile, the latter he places the sensitive experience of the child at the heart of his reflection. In society, in art and in literature, emotion, especially in its tearful form, occupies a major place.

This very cultural construction of nature has consequences on the perception of maternal feeling, now considered “instinctive”. The mother and the love which attaches her to her child are glorified by society, and we see the development of new "natural" practices such as breastfeeding, in contrast to the still very common practice of childcare. nanny of the children of aristocratic and bourgeois families. This development reaches to the top of society, as the queen herself, Marie-Antoinette, privately claims daily closeness to her children that court etiquette theoretically contradicted.

Image Analysis

"The natural tenderness, this delicate feeling, this sweet affection of the soul, is rendered with such admirable artistry that the picture can be compared to what the greatest masters of the Italian school have produced that are most sublime. This review of The Literary Year, formulated on the occasion of the presentation to the public of Maternal tenderness, could not aim more just. An admirer of Raphaël, Vigée Le Brun has in fact the Madonnas of Renaissance genius in mind when she creates this work. In fact, it is in religious painting, and more precisely in the codified theme of Madonna and Child, that the maternal sentiment has until then been expressed mainly in art. Pictures of mothers and children did exist, of course, but never did the outpouring of affection visible here shine through. This was not the aim of these official works, intended to present the mother as the legitimate progenitor of a line, within the agreed framework of her social rank. To be convinced of this, it suffices to compare this self-portrait with the portrait of another mother that Vigée Le Brun produced at the same time: the official one of Marie-Antoinette surrounded by her daughter and her two sons. The queen sits in a stilted seat while her three children surround her in prepared poses: above all, the work celebrates her role as mother to the royal family.

Yet the two self-portraits of Vigée Le Brun with her daughter, painted for pleasure in a private setting, precisely escape the conventions of official portraiture. The tenderly entwined poses materialize the double feeling of love and protection of the mother for the child. If the staging shines through in the dialogue of looks established with the spectator, nothing however seems to ring wrong. This sense of sincerity is all the more vivid as the setting of the scene is intentionally stripped down to focus attention on the two characters. A recurring model in her mother's paintings, Julie is captured as accurately as possible by the spontaneity of her childish gestures, turned over with an impression of slight surprise in the first painting, and impertinent gaiety in the second. The only major difference between the two works concerns the costumes: those, "à la grecque", in the 1789 painting reflect the taste of Neoclassicism for Antiquity, which appeared following the first excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the middle of the century. century.

Interpretation

In these two works, does Vigée Le Brun reduce her role to that of a mother? The argument would be all the more admissible than the valuation of the mother figure in the XVIIIe century was not accompanied by in-depth emancipation: women remain largely confined to the private sphere. Yet the innocent simplicity of these paintings conceals a more complex meaning than it seems. A customary self-portrait, Vigée Le Brun had already caused a sensation in 1782, staging herself with brushes in hand. The self-portrait is therefore for this artist a form of self-assertion. Representing herself with her daughter is a way of asserting her unique situation, but perfectly assumed, in a society still not very receptive to female liberation: the fact of being both a loving mother and a woman painter whose success allows her to make a living from his art. Trained in the trade by her pastellist father, who died when she was 12 years old, Vigée Le Brun very early on provided for her family through the sale of her paintings. From her youth, she was therefore one of the few women of her time and of her bourgeois social condition to assume the exercise of a profession traditionally reserved for men.

  • official portrait
  • royal bride
  • Marie Antoinette
  • absolute monarchy
  • maternity
  • childhood
  • self-portrait

Bibliography

BAILLIO Joseph, SALMON Xavier (dir.), Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, cat. exp. (Paris, New York, Ottawa, 2015-2016), Paris, Meeting of national museums - Grand Palais, 2015.HAROCHE-BOUZINAC Geneviève, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: story of a look, Paris, Flammarion, coll. “Grandes biographies”, 2011.KNIBIEHLER Yvonne, History of mothers and motherhood in the West, Paris, University Press of France, coll. "What do I know? »(No 3539), 2000. PITT-RIVERS Françoise, Madame Vigée Le Brun, Paris, Gallimard, 2001.

To cite this article

Emilie FORMOSO, "The new face of maternal love"


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