Aubry, Etienne. Les adieux à la nourrice. 1776-1777, oil on canvas. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Aubry was born in 1745 at Versailles. A member of the Royal Academy, he developed his talents as a genre painter. By age 25 he was established at court painting domestic scenes and portraits. The artist did not live to see the revolution, dying at the age of 36.
The work features a father and mother who have come to pick up their baby from the wet nurse whom he was assigned to. Typical practice, the child was left to stay with the nurse and her family for the first few months of infancy. This moment depicts the struggle the little one felt while being pulled from one mother and handed to an unknown mother.
Emile, or On Education which was not well received in France (at first). In the first book of this work, he strongly advocated that it was a mother's first duty to nurse her own babies, rather than hire a wet nurse.
Aubry seems to play with this idea. The reaction of the infant is apparent, distress evident in his facial expression, eyes and body language, when he his handed to his mother, that he does not even look up at her; his eyes are locked on the wet nurse's face. So strong is the emotion of all figures in the composition, that without the title of the work, one may suspect a child is being taken from its family rather than returning to it.