Maternal Affection

Lagrenée was celebrated for his small-scale cabinet paintings of classical and mythological subjects. Here, three women tend to two infants within a sunlit loggia. The warm light, tiles underfoot, and leafy trees in the background suggest that the scene takes place in temperate climes. To an 18th-century audience, the women’s clothing would have been immediately understood as antique dress.

Depictions of motherhood, and particularly breastfeeding, became increasingly popular in the second half of the 18th century. The writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau prompted a debate about mothers nursing their own children (then an uncommon practice). Lagrenée’s allegorical depiction of motherhood is both tender and elegant, executed with his characteristically meticulous brushwork and harmonious colouring.

Signed and dated 1775, it is possible that Lagrenée exhibited Maternal Affection at the Salon of that year under the title 'La Douceur'. That painting was bought by the Earl of Shelburne (1737–1805), in whose posthumous sale of 1806 a ‘Maternal Affection’ by Lagrenée appears.

Key facts

Artist dates
1725 - 1805
Full title
Maternal Affection
Date made
Medium and support
Oil on copper
43.5 × 34.5 cm
Inscription summary
Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit
A gift from the Estate of Brian Sewell, 2016
Inventory number
Location in Gallery