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The original Supermum!

Dumont, NM. The artist at her occupations, 1789

Dumont, NM. The artist at her occupations, 1789

Have a look at this!

Painted in 1789 by French artist Nicole-Marie Dumont, this painting has remained etched in my conscious since I first saw it. There is nothing terribly unusual about the painting itself, in fact it’s fairly predictable in its technicalities. It’s the subject matter that is so significant to me.

The 18th century ‘supermum’!

The artist presents herself in white frock and sash, hair perfectly coiffed into rolls and ribbons. Her baby, also wearing white (unheard of in a painting studio!) reaches out to a loving mother as she downs brushes and palette to attend to her young charge.

Behind her looms the large portrait of some important male, probably her husband. She’s telling us that although she is a painter, nothing is more important to her than her husband and child – notice how large the canvas is and how the portrait she has begun is larger than life size. A dutiful wife and mother first and foremost.

As audience, we have interrupted her. Despite this intrusion, she turns to greet us, pleasantly, calmly and with a passive poise. ‘Oh, how can I help you?’, she seems to be saying.

No doubt Nicole-Marie Dumont created this revelatory work as a way to promote her own arts practice. Portraying herself as a ‘supermum’ was a way of maintaining face, status and reputation while participating in an occupation generally unaccepting and hostile to women.

It’s a monstrous, prophetic and humorous work and I feel as though I’m peeping through a keyhole and looking back to our future.

What do you think about this piece – love it or not?



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