Maternal love in the XIXe century

Maternal love in the XIX<sup>e</sup> century

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  • Maternity.

    CAREER Eugène (1849 - 1906)

  • Maternity at the window (at Pouldu).

    DENIS Maurice (1870 - 1943)

  • The cradle.

    MORISOT Berthe (1841 - 1895)

To close

Title: Maternity.

Author : CAREER Eugène (1849 - 1906)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 33 - Width 40

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - B. Hatala / G. Blotsite web

Picture reference: 90DE262 / RF 3115

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - B. Blot

To close

Title: Maternity at the window (at Pouldu).

Author : DENIS Maurice (1870 - 1943)

School : Nabis

Creation date : 1899

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 70 - Width 46

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 95DE20167 / RF 3115

Maternity at the window (at Pouldu).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: The cradle.

Author : MORISOT Berthe (1841 - 1895)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1872

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 56 ​​- Width 46

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 93DE719 / RF 2849

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Historian Philippe Ariès described the process by which, in the XVIIIe century, the child becomes a being worthy of interest, with needs and a personality of its own. This development can be seen in particular in the care with which parents now surround their child, in the tenderness they show him and in the concern they have for his health and his education.

Begun under the Ancien Régime, the discovery of childhood continues in contemporary times. "In the XIXe century, the child is, more than ever, at the center of the family. It is the object of an investment of all kinds ": emotional, cultural, educational, economic (M. PERROT," Childhood revolutionized by the Revolution? Parents and children in the XIXe century ", in M.-F. LÉVY (dir.), The Child, the Family and the French Revolution, Olivier Orban, 1990, p. 406-407).

This statement is particularly true for the Belle Époque. The French Society of Pediatrics was founded in 1899; two "best-sellers", Claudine at school, by Colette (1900), and The War of the Buttons by Louis Pergaud (1912), have children as their heroes.

The education of children is no less demanding and full of severity. Corporal punishment such as whipping, spanking, or more “milder” punishments such as withholding meals are widely seen as an educational method. But in general, parents show new attention to their offspring.

Image Analysis

Carried out in the second half of the century, the paintings reproduced here are so many hymns to maternal love. Each of these motherhood icons, modern variations on the Madonna and Child theme, presents a facet of the emotional and physical bond that unites mother and baby.

In his Maternity, Eugène Carrière paints the tender game of a young woman and her infant: the latter holds out his little hand towards the face of his mother, who cradles him. The charming face-to-face of the two beings, the sfumato of gray and black enveloping them, the velvety colors and the unity of the palette contribute to the intimacy of this scene.

With greater vivacity, Maurice Denis represents his wife with their second daughter. The young mother, who has taken her child in her arms, kisses him full on the lips in front of a wide open window.

In The cradle from the impressionist Berthe Morisot, whose universe is similar to that of the American Mary Cassatt, a young mother (the artist's sister, Edma) tenderly watches over her child's sleep. Three-quarters of the canvas is occupied by the white cradle that wraps the baby in a pure gauze. Beside, the young woman watches him dreamily: her silent and amazed contemplation contrasts with the snapshots of the Impressionists.


These paintings evoke the deep intimacy that unites mother and child, a theme already treated in the 18th century.e century by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, in a more conventional way perhaps. They reflect the discovery of gentleness, the blossoming of a maternal vocation, the popularization of caresses and kisses from mother to child, already recommended by Rousseau in theEmile.

However, many ambiguities remain, which qualify this model. The placement of the baby in a wet nurse in the countryside, a sign of a certain lack of interest in the infant, was still a massive practice at the end of the century and which did not disappear until the Great War.

In middle-class families, the baby is entrusted to a nanny at home, known as “on site”. In total, in Paris in the 1860s, almost one in two newborns was not raised directly by their mother.

On the other hand, between recourse to a nanny and the use of a bottle, breastfeeding remains rare.

Finally, when the child grows up, the assertion of maternal care can also correspond to a refusal of education, especially for girls. In the XIXe century, they will often be "implicitly returned to their mother", as during the Revolution, before the more privileged among them benefited from the laws passed in the early 1880s under the influence of Camille See. These three works are therefore also revealing of the ambiguities of the period.

  • demography
  • education
  • childhood
  • family
  • women
  • hygiene
  • private life
  • childcare
  • childcare
  • Nabis


Marie-Françoise LÉVY (dir.), The Child, the Family and the French Revolution, Paris, Olivier Orban, 1990.

Jean-Noël LUC, The invention of the young child in the 19th century: from the asylum room to the nursery school, Paris, Belin, 1997.

Catherine ROLLET, Early childhood policy under the Third Republic, Paris, INED, PUF, 1990.

Catherine ROLLET, Children in the 19th century, Hachette, Daily Life, 2001.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "Maternal love in the XIXe century "


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