The Clothes Make the Painting: Auguste Toulmouche


In the late 1800s, costume paintings were quite the rage. One popular painter in the genre was Auguste Toulmouche (1829-1890), a Frenchman from a modest background. While all his paintings contain sumptuous costumes and intricate details, his 1866 painting "La Fiancée Hésitante" (The Hesitant Fiancée) is one of his most interesting paintings.

1. As the title indicates, "La Fiancée Hésitante" is meant to depict a woman, unsure about her upcoming marriage, being comforted by her friends. Yet if you look closely at the fiancée's face, she seems more evil and determined than hesitant.

2. Auguste Toulmouche had fans in high places. In 1852, Emperor Napoleon III purchased Toulmouche's "La Fille." The following year, Empress Eugénie bought "The First Step," while Princess Mathilde bought "After Lunch."

3. Among the painters in the costume genre, Toulmouche was considered one of the best. In an 1887 book, Alida Graveraet Radcliffe wrote of Toulmouche's "peculiarly delicate touch," while the critic Emile Zola described Toulmouche's female subjects as "Toulmouche's delicious dolls" (délicieuses poupées de Toulmouche). And, when Harper's New Monthly Magazine wrote an overview of French art in 1877, Toulmouche managed to receive a favorable mention in the otherwise negative article.

4. Toulmouche married in 1862; his new bride just so happened to be a cousin of Claude Monet. At the time, Monet's father was looking for someone to "supervise" Claude's art studies in Paris. Toulmouche had entered the studio of Charles Gleyre, a Swiss painter, at age 17, so when Monet arrived in Paris in November 1862, Toulmouche directed him to Gleyre's studio. Toulmouche told his new cousin, "He will teach you to do a picture." While Monet chafed under Gleyre's academic instruction, it was in Gleyre's studio that he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, who became his close friends.

A larger version of "La Fiancée Hésitante" is available here. Fans of Auguste Toulmouche should check out his ARC and Wikimedia galleries; his "Reading Lesson" and "La Leçon"; and Taller 54's article on Toulmouche (in Spanish). Current Exhibitions featuring "Feel Art Again" artists:Alfred Sisley: Impressionist Landscapes (County Durham, England: through September 21, 2008)Monet to Picasso (Salt Lake City, UT: through September 21, 2008)Corot to Picasso: Impressionist and Modern Masterworks (Perugia, Italy: September 15, 2008 - January 15, 2009) "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.