She doesn’t have the look… or maybe it’s the stamina

The Feeding the Motherless etching by the Illman Brothers was one of my favorites that we saw on Monday.  I like that it was more focused on what the woman is doing than on how she looks. The artist did not go out of their way to make the woman strikingly beautiful either and gave the woman more depth than that. She has a plain face and therefore the eye is free to travel to the intricately etched nest and baby birds.

Both the woman in the etching and Marian seem to have been forced into mothering roles; the etching woman by the kindness of her heart in taking in helpless birds and Marian by her affections for her sister. The woman in the etching to me seems to be tired by her role as mother because of the shading around and under her eyes, which suggests to me that this role assignment is taxing on her. This also mirrors the burden Marian’s role as mother to Laura places on her as shown through the loss of freedom Marian has in going into hiding.

The etching’s focus on the woman’s actions rather than her looks also reminds me of Marian. Marian is described as “ugly” by Walter and while the woman in the etching is not ugly, she is not as glamorous as the other woman in the other etchings (Collins 34). I feel like because these are not woman who are praised for their looks the people portraying them use their actions in order to give them some value in the Victorian society.

This reminds me of William Rathbone Greg’s essay. He discusses how woman are redundant unless they are married or serving others and that these are their greatest purposes in life. Using Greg’s point of view it can be assumed that in serving, Marian and the etching woman are being fulfilled through their roles as mothers, despite the fact that the act itself is very draining on both women.

While I appreciate that the viewer gets to admire the woman through her work and not her look, the Feeding of the Motherless etching is still not the ideal portrayal of a woman given its Victorian context.

2 thoughts on “She doesn’t have the look… or maybe it’s the stamina”

  1. I found this post about the artist’s uncharacteristic focus upon women’s actions very intriguing! Before reading this post, I didn’t really consider the implications of a title such as “Feeding the Motherless” in comparison to superficial titles such as Picasso’s “Woman with a Blue Hat.” In this regard, I suppose that women are regaining their agency by the artist’s depiction of action versus the stereotypical portrayal of women lying languidly upon a fainting couch. I wonder if it would be fruitful to connect this painting to something such as Salammbo in order to think about contrasting portrayals of women. I believe that there is some power in being able to command the male gaze through seductive means, but it appears that the model is being dominated by the snake (If that’s not an obvious indicator of something…) and perhaps stripped of her agency because she is lying on a bed with her eyes closed.

  2. I wanted to include a photo, but the button had a mind of its own. I hope that this works out this second time.

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