A previously obscure 19th century French painting may seem to be an unlikely subject for a trending TiKTok meme. However, that is exactly what is happening right now for ‘The Hesitant Fiancée by Auguste Toulmouche. The oil painting was made in 1886, and depicts a young seated young woman with a strikingly sullen expression on her face.
The image has hit a chord with today’s generation of young women, who have been identifying with the image that gives a whole new dimension to feeling a bit fed up with the world. TikTok users have been adding their own interpretations and imposing their modern-day frustrations on the reluctant bride.
Therese Dolan, a professor emerita of modern and contemporary art at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia, told The New York Times that the sentiment shown in the painting was unusual for a time when women were generally discouraged from expressing negative or subversive emotions and thoughts.
She said: “You don’t often get this in 19th-century painting — this kind of independent streak. She’s actually showing the emotion of not wanting to get married to the person that her wealthy family has picked out.”
Toulmouche was born in Nantes, north west France, in 1829, and moved to Paris to study drawing and painting in 1846 with the painter Charles Gleyre. He favoured academic realist portraits of elegant upper class women, usually wearing sumptuous dresses and posing in lavishly furnished rooms.
The artist’s work was popular during his lifetime. His painting La Fille was bought by Napoleon for his future empress Eugénie in 1852, and other paintings were sought after in fashionable parisian circles. However, tastes in art began to change with the introduction of more modern styles such as Impressionism, and his popularity declined.
Toulmouche died suddenly in Paris at the age of 61, and his work has remained relatively obscure to the general public until the recent and unexpected new lease of life of TikTok, fuelled by a generation of women who strongly identify with the subject’s fierce expression.
However, some of Toulmarche’s paintings can be found in public art galleries, including the Louvre, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Musée des Beaux-Art in Nantes.
One TikTok user said of ‘The Hesitant Fiancée’: “I think it’s safe to say that you probably shouldn’t be getting married if you look like this on your wedding day.” Another added: “I am vibing heavily with the bride in this.”
In the depicted scene, the discontented young woman has received news of her arranged marriage, in an age when it was customary for upper class women to marry for financial security rather than personal happiness. She is surrounded by friends who are trying to pacify her, but the young lady remains magnificently unimpressed.
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