February 21, 2011

Les adieux à la nourrice

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.


Rousseau had previously published his work 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.

7 comments :

  1. Want a beautiful painting. I really enjoy this site.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Robby Thanks for visiting! I love this piece too

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the painting too. What a great find!

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a nursing mother I find this painting to be heart breaking. Poor baby.... :( So sad... But the work is beautiful, and it brings into focus just how deeply breastfeeding bonds a mother (or wet nurse!) to a baby. I can't imagine how mothers didn't instinctively feel that sending their babies away to be raised and nursed by a stranger was unnatural.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This kind of painting is perfect for us to realize there is a History on feelings too. A poor mother would breastfeed because she had no other choice. Middle Class and Noble women would sent the children away because they didn't have (yet) the idea we have today: that a mother must love her children and if she doesn't, it seems quite...unnatural (not sure about the spelling!) to us. It's a historical process and it's delightful to see. So is the painting.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Beautiful paintings that give us a mirror into an ionic age.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Beautiful paintings that give us a mirror into an ionic age.

    ReplyDelete