By Maria Bregman

I have been covering art markets for more than a decade. From antiquities to contemporary, galleries to auctions and museums, what defines art market writing is so much more than the art in the room. I will do deep dives into the backstories of the art business.

A painting from 1866 by French artist Auguste Toulmouche has gone viral on TikTok, thanks to a trend that uses the image of a young woman rolling her eyes as a meme to express frustration, annoyance, or boredom with various situations. The painting, titled La Fiancée Hésitante (The Hesitant Fiancée), depicts a scene of a marriage proposal, where the bride-to-be seems less than thrilled with her suitor, while her parents and a notary look on with approval. The painting is currently in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The TikTok trend started in early November, when a user named @adownif3rta posted a video with the painting and the caption “When he says he loves you but he doesn’t even know your favorite color”. The video, which was set to a dramatic opera song, received over 6 million views and 1 million likes. Since then, many other users have followed suit, adding their own captions to the painting, such as “When he says he wants to marry you but he doesn’t even know how to do laundry” or “When he says he’s a feminist but he doesn’t even know who Simone de Beauvoir is”. Some users have also used the painting to comment on social issues, such as gender roles, sexism, racism, or climate change.

The trend has also sparked a renewed interest in the painting and its artist, who was a popular painter of genre scenes and portraits in the 19th century. Toulmouche was a student of Charles Gleyre, who also taught Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. He was influenced by the realism of Gustave Courbet and the elegance of François Boucher. He exhibited regularly at the Salon, where he won several medals and awards. He was also a friend of Émile Zola, who praised his paintings for their “delicate grace” and “exquisite charm”.

Toulmouche’s paintings often depicted women in domestic or intimate settings, such as reading, sewing, dressing, or flirting. He was known for his attention to detail, especially in the costumes and accessories of his female subjects. He also had a subtle sense of humor, which can be seen in the expressions and gestures of his characters. His paintings were admired by the bourgeoisie, who saw in them a reflection of their own lifestyle and values.

However, Toulmouche’s paintings also reveal a critique of the social norms and expectations of his time, especially regarding women and marriage. His paintings show the contrast between the idealized image of femininity and the reality of women’s lives, which were often constrained by patriarchal rules and conventions. His paintings also suggest the dissatisfaction and discontent of women who had to conform to the roles of wives, mothers, or daughters, without having much choice or agency in their own destiny. His paintings, therefore, can be seen as a precursor of the feminist movement, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The TikTok trend, then, is not only a fun and creative way of using a classical art painting as a meme, but also a way of connecting with the history and meaning of the painting, and the feelings and experiences of the woman depicted in it. The hesitant fiancée, who has been trapped in a marriage contract that she does not want, has found a new voice and a new audience in the 21st century, thanks to the power of social media and the empathy of the users who identify with her. She has become a symbol of resistance and empowerment for women who are fed up with the pressures and inequalities of society, and who are not afraid to express their opinions and emotions. She has also become a reminder of the importance and relevance of art, which can transcend time and space, and speak to the hearts and minds of people across generations and cultures.

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