François Barraud – La Tailleuse de Soupe (1933)

Largely forgotten today, François Barraud was a self-taught Swiss painter known for his realism, deeply melancholic, contemplative portraits and nudes. He was influenced by The New Objectivity movement, which also included Christian Schad and Cagnaccio di San Pietro. The movement emphasized the realism of everyday life, without much context being offered: the very identity of the subjects was being questioned. It is why, perhaps, Barraud’s paintings can be so haunting. There is an inherent mystery to his art, a pull that makes you curious to find out more about the background story of his paintings.

Having suffered from health problems throughout his life, this could be the reason why the Swiss artist may have preferred painting a very limited number of people, usually within closed environments. His favorite muse was his wife, Marie, who appears in tens of his artworks. You can see Marie as the blonde woman placed to the right of the kitchen table in La Tailleuse de Soupe.

Francois Barraud - La Tailleuse de Soupe
François Barraud – La Tailleuse de Soupe (1933), oil on canvas

The title literally translates as The Soup Cutter, from the old French expression tailler (le pain de) la soupe, which refers to the act of slicing bread to dip it into soup. A better translation would be The Bread Cutter, indicating Marie’s role in the painting. With a smile on her face that reveals her contentment, she may be the main subject according to the title, but it is the brunette adolescent to the left of the table that leaves us most perplexed. Dressed in the flapper style of the 1920s with her bare arms and the bow in her hair, the girl is clearly looking upset, even defiant, her gaze turned away from the table and directed at us.

At first glance, we might be witnessing a familiar scene, the fraught mother and daughter relationship when the hormones of adolescence kick in and the daughter yearns for emancipation and more self-expression. However, it is the girl’s intense blush that I find most puzzling. Is that in relation to what she just said to her mother, something she’s now embarrassed about? Is it something she’s thinking – that she ought not to? Or is it because her gaze is locked in with the painter’s and she’s feeling exposed?

You see, the mysterious girl-woman appears in at least two other of Barraud’s paintings, both of them nudes: The Painting Session (1933), where she is portrayed as a woman and The Hollow Dreams (1933), where she looks more adolescent. In other words, in 1933 Barraud painted the girl at least three times and her age seems to differ each time. Lacking more models, it’s possible that the Swiss aged her or infantilized her, as his necessity and art scenes demanded. And so, the mystery remains.

What do you think? Why is the girl blushing?

11 thoughts on “François Barraud – La Tailleuse de Soupe (1933)

  1. Beautiful; paintings and quite intriguing. The nude paintings of the teenager are also beautiful and rather disturbing. I know that it wasn’t done to paint pubic hair but it makes her look very young. The fact that his wife is standing next to him in “The Painting Session” doesn’t make it any less wierd. Still, I;’ll try no to judge it by today standards but I wonder how contemporaries would have viewed it?

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    1. I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of people calling for the censorship of the nudes today. They are disturbing, as the girl looks almost pubescent in “The Hollow Dreams”, but Barraud never painted pubic hair in any of his nudes, not even in those of his wife. I was hesitant whether to include them at all, but I think they bring more context (and intrigue) to “La Tailleuse de Soup”. I like your approach, not judging it by today’s standards.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not always easy…I think you have to have two pairs of eyes when looking at the past. Understanding the historical context is not the same as excusing things we find unpleasant today. They are a window into attitudes of the past.

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  2. Maybe the daughter is responding to the painter (if she sat for the portrait, that is).

    Another interesting painting I would not have seen if it weren’t for your blog. Also enjoyed your back and forth with Emma about the linked paintings. It’s rather interesting that what may not have been very controversial at the time of painting is now. I’d rather have thought thing would have gone the other way in which earlier art, put in historical context, would be less controversial over time. Alas we see that is not the case with Waterhouse, Balthus, or now even Harper Lee and Mark Twain.

    Personally, I support all those artists and their works and think the those who find them threatening could find much more threatening things to worry about if they opened a newspaper (ex., the recent school shooting).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we should at least look at these controversial pieces and analyze them from a historical or anthropological point of view. See how far we’ve come, if we’ve changed, how attitudes differed across regions and time periods.

      The problem is that museums and curators feel that they have a moral responsibility and they don’t really know where to draw the line. In the end, maybe we should agree that some art is meant to shock and outrage us, regardless of when it was completed.

      Like

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