The artwork of Constance Mayer is forever linked to the works of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. They would often work together on many of his paintings, although all of the credit for her work was given to Prud'hon. Constance like many other artists of her era worked mainly as painters of miniatures, portraits, religious and genre scenes. Mayer's artworks have been described as colorful and beautiful. Although there is not very much information on Constance Mayer, the information I was able to find describes her as great artist.


Constance Mayer (Marie-Françoise-Constance Mayer-Lamartinière) was born in Paris, France in 1775.

Constance became a pupil in Prud’hon’s studio in 1802. Soon after becoming his pupil they became friends. She was more than just one of his pupils though, she was his housekeeper, took care of his children, and was also his mistress. Prud'hon's wife, who had been declared insane, was committed to a sanitarium in 1803 and Prud’hon was granted custody of their children.

Their relationship as pupil and teacher was not the usual type of relationship one expects to see between master and assistant. Since Prud'hon got the credit for the paintings no matter if he painted them or if Constance did, this made it hard to distinguish between who actually did the artwork. Prud’hon normally produced the early drawings and sketches and Mayer then would make the paintings with assistance from Prud’hon. Thus, many of her early artworks were never credited to her.

For their first exhibition in 1804 titled, Innocence Preferring Love to Wealth, Prud'hon produced over 12 sketches of paintings. However, Constance was the artist who actually painted all of the paintings and finally gained some credit for her work as she displayed them under her name.

The Empress Josephine commissioned Constance to do a painting titled "The Sleep of Venus and Cupid Disturbed by Zephyrs", which Constance displayed in her exhibition in 1806. In 1808 she added a pendant to this painting. This painting was sold many years later as one of Prud’hon's masterpieces.

In the middle of her art career, after painting for many years using the same style of Prud’hon, she began to paint in the abstract style. She would train under artists such as Joseph-Benoît Suvée and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, whose emotional subjects and brilliant imagery left a long lasting impression on her work.

It is said that you can see the influence of Suvée and Greuze in Constance's early exhibition paintings of children. In 1809 while she was a pupil of Suvée and Greuze she began to sign her exhibition paintings. These included "The Portrait of the Lady with her Father"; in which he points to a bust of Raphael.  She also took lessons from Jacques Louis David in 1809. His teaching helped Constance's paintings to show greater clarity, sharpness and a more serious setting. Despite the bust of Raphael and antique items on the studio wall in this painting, Constance never really used these models in any other paintings, and the majority of her works remained closer to the style of Greuze.

In a later exhibit, Constance and Prud'hon displayed a painting that resembled one of John-Baptiste Greuze's paintings made in the late 1770s. Constance and Prud'hon's painting titled, "Innocence Drawn by Love and Followed by Regret", was initially started by Constance, but, finished by Prud’hon and cataloged under his name.

Two of Constance's paintings titled "The Happy Mother" and "The Unfortunate Mother" display the concern about motherhood in the early 19th-century. This was a highly debated subject, due to the novels written by  Jean-Jacques Rousseau that dealt with mentality of the mid-18th century.

"The Happy Mother" depicts a mother breastfeeding her infant, the mother in this painting has a look of pleasure on her face, this is depicting the pleasure she receives from giving her child the sustenance it requires to live.

"The Unfortunate Mother" shows a mother in mourning for the loss of her dead child. The mother is at the tomb where her child will spend eternity.  This painting was said to have a feeling for the mothers great loss that would leave the viewer feeling sorrow for the mother and child.

"The Happy Mother" and "The Unfortunate Mother" both depict the same outdoor landscape background settings; this was done to help stress the private nature of maternal experiences. Constance received much criticism about both of these paintings. This in turn caused her to go back to painting portraits of women she knew, and commissioned pieces.

In 1819 Constance's exhibition showed a return to the abstract style that she had used before. In her painting titled "The Dream of Happiness", Constance showed a married couple and their child in a boat gently drifting down the River of Life, propelled by love, happiness and fortune. Sadly Constance never experienced such happiness in her life. Even though Constance had a reputation of being a great artist and had received a place to live at the Sorbonne University in Paris, she never had children of her own. This led to Constance becoming severely depressed and extremely unhappy with her personal life.

In 1801 Constance became extremely upset when Prud’hon declined the idea of marrying her after his wife died. After hearing Prud'hon's answer to her idea of remarrying, Constance committed suicide by cutting her own throat with Prud'hon's razor.

After Constance died, Prud’hon completed her painting titled "The Poverty-stricken Family"; this painting was greatly admired by Marie Henri Beyle for the depiction of despair. In 1822 it was exhibited with her other works, in a posthumous exhibition which was a tribute to Constance organized by Prud’hon.

One fact I found very interesting about Constance is the fact that even though Prud'hon never married her, she is buried right beside him. Both lay in eternal rest at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


Few of the paintings made by Constance survive to this day. The paintings that have survived are in museums such as:

You can view images of her artwork on the following websites:

  • http://tinyurl.com/3nh4t
  • http://tinyurl.com/5baf3

For More information on other lesser known female artists that you should read about, please check Lesser known female artists.


Sources:
http://worldart.sjsu.edu
http://cgfa.sunsite.dk
http://www.xs4all.nl
http://www.wallacecollection.org
http://www.csupomona.edu

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