96 x 116.5 cm. (3 ft. 1 13⁄16 in. x 3 ft. 9 7⁄8 in.)
Oil on canvas.
Signed lower left: C. M. Bondu / Charpentier.
• Artist’s Collection.
• Post-mortem inventory of François-Victor Charpentier on May 16th, 1810, “It[em] two pictures, specifically one of a blind father and the other of a convalescent mother in their gilt frames, appraised and estimated at one hundred forty-four francs.”
• Family Collection of the heirs, southern France.
• France, Private Collection.
• 1804, Paris Salon, no 94, “Convalascent Mother Cared for by her Children.”
• Yaelle Arasa, Davidiennes, Les femmes peintres de l’atelier de Jacques-Louis David (1768-1825), L’Harmattan, Paris, 2019.
• Margaret Ann Oppenheimer, Women artists in Paris, 1791-1814, New York University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1996.
Citizeness Charpentier or Madame Charpentier, as she was called in the official Parisian Salon booklet, was in fact, the painter Constance-Marie Charpentier, née Bondelu. At the age of 17, she entered Jacques-Louis David’s studio (Paris, 1748 – Brussels, 1825) and developed her artistic competence before devoting herself entirely to a type of genre painting with moral connotations based on Denis Diderot’s writings which had been inspired by the work of Jean‑Baptiste Greuze (Tournus, 1725-Paris, 1805) in the second half of the 18th century. She finished her training under François Gérard (Rome, 1770 – Paris, 1837) and Pierre- Alexandre Wille (Paris, 1748 – 1821), a genre painter who fully indulged his penchant for intimate family scenes. As a member outside of the Academy, Constance-Marie Charpentier was only allowed to exhibit in the Salon starting in 1791. There she met with complete success from 1795 until 1819.
Her work was often compared to that of Marguerite Gérard (Grasse, 1761 – Paris, 1837) for the similarity of their subjects: maternal tenderness figures prominently in their oeuvre. Thus, at the Salons of 1806 and 1812, Charpentier presented respectively Portrait of Mme. F*** holding her Daughter on her Lap (no 95) and Mother Receiving Her Daughter’s Secrets (No 183) which thus glorified the mother-child relationship, whereas the father, if depicted, only played a secondary role.
In a fairly comfortable interior, a sweet image of daily life appears. In the center of the composition, an old woman, gazing upward as if imploring the heavens to come to her aid, seems to have just risen from her bed in order to get to an armchair placed near a table where chocolate is served. Apparently the mother of four children, she is supported by the two older ones: on one side, she leans on her son’s shoulder, and on the other, on the arm of her daughter who also carries one of her pillows. The youngest daughter pulls the chair closer, while the second youngest, standing on the right side of the composition, very carefully brings a cup of hot chocolate.
At the heart of the sensitivity expressed in Constance-Marie Charpentier’s oeuvre, our picture illustrates both maternal love as the French family ideal model, and evokes the artist’s actual life, a mother who had prematurely lost her first daughter Constance-Julie at the age of nine, a year before this picture was realized.
In this work, which has an unusual format for the artist, the harmonious composition presents a multitude of details blended into a meticulously thought-out entity. The powerful contrast between the dark background demarcating the room, and the light in the foreground gives a warm theatrical dimension to the scene. In addition to establishing rigorous Neoclassic constructions, the artist develops a delicate charming style learned from her apprenticeship under David, as well as a purity of line acquired from close observation under François Gérard. Indeed, at the beginning, Charpentier practiced drawing by copying some of her masters’ works, such as Gérard’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Brongniart.
As for the gentle faces handled with a soft palette heightened by light pink brushstrokes, they are not unfamiliar to Wille’s works. Constance-Marie Charpentier’s corpus remains complex. Although bearing the distinctive imprint of her own dreamy gracefulness, her oeuvre could be confused with that of her contemporaries, including Marie-Denise Villiers. Such is the case of the portrait of Charlotte of Val d’Ognes, exhibited in the 1801 Salon (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) whose attribution was recently returned to her.