She’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s wearing female rage on her face. Recently trending on TikTok for serving the ultimate glare, Auguste Toulmouche’s 1866 painting The Hesitant Fiancée is a startlingly lifelike impression of a woman who’s just tired of it (and you).
Society has always appreciated fine art, and that same sentiment has persisted through the ages. Art has been admired for as long as it has been made, with notable pieces by world-renowned painters fetching millions at auctions.
But, while our forefathers could only enjoy paintings that were right in front of them, modern-day art lovers are blessed with digitised scans of all their favourite pieces. It’s easier to share, and thus appreciate art. And even better – it’s now easier than ever to hold discourse on the meaning of any one painting, and modern art enthusiasts are taking to TikTok to proclaim the merits of their favourites.
The renaissance of classical art in a time of memes has resulted in a delightful boom of cheeky, oftentimes hilarious content. And while some are simply aimed at giving art lovers a good chuckle, others, like Toulmouche’s newly-memed piece, provides an insightful look into our ancestors’ lives — women in particular, and the subject of marriage when one is unwilling.
The painting that sparked a thousand TikToks
The painting in question is the work of French artist Auguste Toulmouche, who was born in Nantes, France, in 1829. At just 19 years of age and under the tutelage of his teacher, the painter Charles Gleyre, he exhibited his first paintings at the Paris Salon in 1848.
His work is mostly composed of elegantly dressed ladies of the upper class, painted in academic realism style. They were widely considered to be fashionable, winning the painter much public and critical acclaim. His masterpieces were purchased by the Emperor Napoleon III, and he received a third class medal at the Paris Salon in 1852, and a second class medal in 1861.
Despite his accolades, Toulmouche’s critics would remark upon his work with mild apathy, relegating their emphasis on luxuriously idle lifestyles and sumptuous fabrics to nothing more than “elegant trifles”. Indeed, novelist Émile Zola once referred to his paintings as the “delicious dolls of Toulmouche” — though that is perhaps an unfair assumption, given the meaningful depths behind the work in question.
The Hesitant Fiancée, also known as The Reluctant Bride, was painted in 1866, when Toulmouche had begun to undertake more complex compositions within his paintings. The bride, clearly indicated by her opulent pearlescent garment, appears to merely tolerate the fawning of her female compatriots. The women appear to offer comfort, perhaps even reassurance of the merits of traditional marriage and feminine submission. She is clearly a woman of noble bearing and some manner of wealth, being surrounded by it; and yet, unabashed, displays obvious disdain for her impending fate — an uncommon occurrence for women of the time.
To put it simply: She is not impressed, and her withering glare says it all.
What is ‘The Hesitant Fiancee’ trend on TikTok?
The women of TikTok have taken to the app to commiserate with the woman, co-opting her quietly furious expression and using it through the trend in response to a variety of situations: Annoyances, inconveniences, micro-aggressions from antagonistic peers, and everything else in between. While many of these responses warrant a hearty, light-hearted chuckle, some users have been quick to point out that the bride’s expression perfectly encapsulates the concept of female rage.
If you haven’t heard of the term, female or feminine rage can be summed up as an inherited, ancestral response to the struggles, frustrations, oppressions, and injustice that women have long been subjected to. While the notion has long existed in life and literature, it wasn’t until this year that the term famously exploded across social media, with many women embracing their female rage – especially given the resurgence of pop culture hits that perfectly showcased it.
Audiences easily related with the women of these films – from Rosamund Pike’s Cool Girl monologue in Gone Girl and Taraji P. Henson’s bathroom troubles in Hidden Figures, to Angela Bassett’s fury in Wakanda Forever and Florence Pugh’s monologue about womanhood in Little Women.
The success of The Hesitant Fiancée trend on TikTok comes as no surprise, given the current discourse around women who are just fed up with everything. Speaking to the New York Times, fine art gallery owner Joan Hawk muses on women’s changing attitudes on marriage, and how it affected the painting’s resurgence. To her, the bride’s scathing glare communicates, “Ugh, do I really have to go through with this?”
In the same article, Los Angeles screenwriter Jenn Ficarra shares her belief that the painting received widespread success because many women can relate to the bride’s frustration in the face of “a situation in which she is expected to appear grateful.” This line of thought, while unconventional in 1800s Paris, is better received today — though based on just how popular the painting has become, it would seem we still have some ways to go. Until then, netizens can continue to vent their frustrations using the delightfully dour (and incredibly relatable) glower of our beloved bride.
(Main and featured image: Wikimedia/ Public Domain)
This story first appeared here.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Who is Auguste Toulmouche?
Auguste Toulmouche is a French painter who was born in Nantes, France, and based on Paris for the latter part of his career. His works are in the academic realism style.
– Why is The Hesitant Fianceé trending on TikTok?
The Hesitant Fianceé is trending on TikTok because women are relating to the woman’s glare, with many hailing it as a prime example of female, or feminine rage.
– What is female rage?
Female or feminine rage can be summed up as an inherited, ancestral response to the struggles, frustrations, oppressions, and injustice that women have long been subjected to.
– What is female rage in literature?
‘Feminine rage’ is a genre of works predominantly produced by female authors and artists, that depict female characters engaging in behaviour that is unconventional and socially unexpected of women in general.
– What is an example of female rage in film?
There are many examples of female rage in film, with the most popular being Rosamund Pike’s character in Gone Girl.