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