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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

The Nursing Mother (La Nourrice)

Photo: Paul Macapia

The Nursing Mother (La Nourrice)


Louis-Simon Boizot

French, 1743 - 1809

This group is part of a three-piece ensemble of sculptural porcelain that includes Le Déjeuner (Breakfast) (69.138) and La Toilette (2004.27). These three groups, portraying scenes from the life of an upper-class French family, reflect the Age of Enlightenment, a time when elite society embraced different, more nurturing attitudes toward maternal and family commitments. These sculptural groups were created in uncolored and unglazed porcelain that resembles marble, a fashion that suited the renewed interest in classical sculpture. Here we see a young upper-class mother breast feeding her baby, encouraged by the baby's nursemaid. Prior to this period, the French aristocracy retained wet nurses to feed their babies.
Hard-paste biscuit porcelain
8 1/16 x 6 5/8 x 6 3/16 in. (20.5 x 16.8 x 15.7 cm)
Gift in memory of Blanche M. Harnan by the Seattle Ceramic Society and Friends, in cooperation with Mr. William H. Lautz, New York, New York
Provenance: William H. Lautz, New York, New York, to 1969; Seattle Ceramic Society and Friends, 1969
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Mother and Child Groupings in SAM's Collection

Female Farming Animal Headdress (Ci Wara), n.d., Malian, Kala Region, Segou Master Style, Bamana, 81.17.23
Leda and the Swan and Her Children, ca. 1540, Vincent Sellaer, 2004.31
Gold weight: mother and children, n.d., Akan, 81.17.392
Bamako Family with Car #266, 1951-1952, Seydou Keita, 97.35
Seydou Keita did not record the names of his clients; hence this work is just titled Family with Car no.266. He owned two cars that were often requested to serve as backdrops for group portraits. In this assembly, three women are dressed in a line up of patterns, polka dots and wax prints. Their faces offer a study in the various ways to respond to a camera: knit eyebrows with reserve, stare it down with confidence or offer youthful eagerness to please. 
Madonna and Child, ca. 1514, Albrecht Dürer, 52.23
Photo: Paul Macapia
Mother and Child Figure for Sango, 19th century, Nigerian, Yoruba, 81.17.594

The Age of Enlightenment

Enlightenment physicians dispelled the medical misconception that breast milk was converted menstrual blood and that nursing drained the mother of her lifeblood. Philosophers extolled the virtues of nursing one's babies instead of sending children away to the countryside for several years to be raised by a wet nurse. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel Émile, published in 1762, suggested that failing to nurse one's children created instability in the family: "Every evil follows in the train of this first sin; the whole moral order is disturbed, nature is quenched in every breast, the home becomes gloomy, the spectacle of a young family no longer stirs the husband's love and the stranger's reverence."
Detail of mother, 69.137
Photo: Paul Macapia

View the Sèvres Manufactory Sculpture Ensemble

Photo: Paul Macapia
La Toilette, ca. 1775-80, French, Sèvres, 2004.27
Photo: Paul Macapia
Le Déjeuner (Breakfast), 1775, French, Sèvres, 69.138
Photo: Paul Macapia
The Nursing Mother (La Nourrice), 1774, French, Sèvres, 69.137


Julie Emerson, Former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, Seattle Art Museum, discusses three French porcelain figures


Exhibition HistoryWilliamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, “Farewell To The Wet Nurse: Etienne Aubry and Images of Breast-Feeding in 18th Century France", September 12, 1998 - January 3, 1999 (09/12/1998 - 01/03/1999)
Published ReferencesEmerson, Julie. “Selections of French Porcelain from the Eighteenth Century European Porcelain Collection of the Seattle Art Museum,” The French Porcelain Society, VI, June 1990, p. 13.

Emerson, Julie, Jennifer Chen, & Mimi Gardner Gates. Porcelain Stories, From China to
Europe. Exhibition catalogue, Seattle Art Museum. Seattle, Washington, 2000, pg. 264-265.

Ivinski, Patricia R., Payne, Harry C., Kathryn Calley Galitz, Rand, Richard. Farewell To The Wet Nurse: Etienne Aubry and Images of Breast-Feeding in 18th Century France. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1998, p. 14, cat. 23.

Seattle Art Museum. Annual Report of the Seattle Art Museum, 1969, p. 60.

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