Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Bold & Forthright Kiss, c1780

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last week, I shared this unusually intimate 18thc painting on my Instagram and Facebook pages in honor of the hashtag #InternationalKissingDay. The painting has long been one of my favorites, and I've been thinking of all the other things I'd wished to say about it that didn't fit in a short caption. So here are those thoughts, along with the painting itself for those of you who didn't see it last week.

The majority of kisses in 18thc Western art of the "stolen kiss" variety (like this.) In the past, the women in stolen kiss themes were considered coy, or making la feinte resistance (a false resistance), or in mid-20thc parlance, just "playing hard to get." Today it's difficult to look at pictures like that and not think about the Me Too movement, and how often the man is shown aggressively forcing himself on a woman who'd much rather be saying no, but can't.

The artist of this watercolor is Nicolas Lavreince - also Lawreince and Lavrince - (1737-1807), a Swedish painter whose work was heavily influenced by the French rococo style of Nicolas Pater and Jean-Honore Fragonard. Most of his paintings are cheerfully gallant scenes of boudoirs and bedrooms showing pretty young women with their lovers, though he had his sleazy, queasy side, too (like this.)

All of which makes this painting the more unusual.  Here, the woman is clearly the one in control. She appears to have interrupted the gentleman at his breakfast. He's wearing an open banyan or robe de chambre over his shirt and breeches with mules on his feet - the 18thc equivalent of a robe and slippers - to show he's likely just risen from his bed. The table is set for him alone, with only one plate and cup.

The lady, however, is fully dressed for day, in a stylish gown, kerchief, cap, and stays. She appears to have just arrived, since her dark cloak is tossed over the back of the chair. She's clutching a small nosegay of flowers; has she brought that to him? There's clearly a sense of surprise, as if she's the one who's caught him in his male version of a boudoir. Here he was, quietly eating his solitary breakfast, when all of a sudden this young woman is HERE, sitting on his knee and shoving open his shirt and banyan and kissing him. It's quite the ambush - not that he objects. His hand curled around her hip to hold her steady on his thigh proves that. And if there's any doubt that this is intended to be a reversal of more customary scenes, the sketchy oval painting on the wall shows a traditional couple with the man reaching from behind the woman to kiss her and cradle her breasts.

Some art historians believe that this shows an encounter between a gentleman and a prostitute, arguing that the only possible explanation for the woman being so forthright in her desire is that she's being paid to do so. I'd rather think that, in this case, turnabout was fair play.

Le déjeuner en tête à tête by Nicolas Lawreince le Jeune, c1780, Musee Louvre.


Trish said...

What a marvelous image. I see a wife returned home to surprise her husband who cannot resist her kiss or a woman defying propriety to let the man she desires know he's wrong about her and their love. Sigh.

ccrown14 said...

I thought the same as Trish. However you imagine it, she's a brazen hussy!

Thenodore said...

You've forgotten to include the artist's real, Swedish, name: Niklas Lafrensen. A wonderfully deft and capable, if currently neglected artist.

authorjessicacale said...

Agreed - there’s no way she’s a prostitute. Assuming it’s his house, he’s unlikely to have a sex worker there, even a mistress. He’d see her on his schedule; she wouldn’t surprise him. Why else would she be fully dressed and perfectly coiffed when he isn’t, and first thing in the morning? Is there a lady’s maid hiding around the corner *in his house*? Whoever she is, she’s confident enough in their relationship to surprise him in his house, in broad daylight, at breakfast. This has to be a wife returning or a cheeky sweetheart. The idea that women in history didn’t enjoy or initiate sex is ridiculous. Clearly the attraction is mutual here, and the artist was pushing some boundaries to paint it. Good on him ��

Anonymous said...

Could very well be a couple at home, she's been up with the children and dealingwith the housekeeper, for hours, but he has slept in.

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