An Egyptian Peasant Woman and Her Child (After Bonnat)

Oil on Linen
32 x 24″

I saw the original of this painting by Léon Bonnat at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2015, soon after breast cancer and radical hysterectomy surgeries. It was a transformational time for me on many levels. Walking through the museum in a heightened emotional state, I felt keenly sensitive to subjects like this. The portrait is huge, seriously huge. Six feet tall. I’m not a religious person, but I felt like I was standing in front of a Madonna. My knees felt weak, and I thought I might cry with happiness and awe.

I made a sketch in my pocket journal, and vowed to paint this one day.

I taught oil painting and portraiture at Lake Tahoe Community College from 2007 – 2020. One of the tasks I set my students was a master copy. This is a traditional way of learning from the old masters, and gives the artist an opportunity to deeply absorb technique.

I always loved teaching this, as I got the opportunity to do it myself. I wasn’t taught like this when I was a student, but always craved to paint in a classical style. So I taught myself. I attended workshops with modern masters like Steven Assael, Carole Marine and Juliette Aristedes. I studied at museums, made copies and studies. Read everything I could find on Art History (which I also taught) and historical technique. Phew. That was a lot.

This painting is now installed above my desk as I write this, and I’m still utterly in love with it. As a mother, I feel something beyond words when I look at it. At her, at them. So much love.

Title: An Egyptian Peasant Woman and Her Child
Original by Léon Bonnat (French, Bayonne 1833–1922 Monchy-Saint-Eloi)
Date: 1869–70 Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 73 1/2 x 41 1/2 in. (186.7 x 105.4 cm)

Bonnat is said to have studied this peasant woman and child from life while he was in Egypt for the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869. The painting was praised at the Paris Salon the following year and again when it was first exhibited in New York in 1876. When Catharine Lorillard Wolfe bequeathed the picture to the Metropolitan it was deemed “a true and vital portrait of two clearly realized individuals [with] a wonderful dignity, sobriety, strength, and beauty.”
There is a full-length oil study for this painting in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne.

 On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 804

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