I found this picture on the Internet. I didn’t know about it, but I was immediately angry because I’m a scary feminist. This is a painting of Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier and Antoine Lavoisier, often coined as the “mother and father of modern chemistry”. The couple worked well in tandem with each other, publishing many works.
This meme, however, got the whole picture wrong, simply judging it by its immediate appearance and displaying altogether ignorance. The person who made this stain on the beautiful surface of the internet assumes that Marie-Anne, in her elegant and fashionably attired state, is in the way of “doing science”. Also, memes? Is this 2010?
In fact, Marie-Anne was more or less Antoine’s equal in their scientific affairs. Marie-Anne would make entries into his lab notebooks, often adding scientific diagrams and drawings to his findings, since she had been trained by an artist named Jacques-Louis David, who is, probably not coincidentally, the artist of this portrait. Without these drawings to accompany Lavoisier’s written scientific pieces, many of Antoine’s contemporaries would theoretically not have been able to comprehend his work. She also edited every single lab of his, and being a master in both English, French, and Latin, translated different scientific documents for him to read. So, basically, she’s the most bad-ass person in the history of science.
In many respects, this painting isn’t even about Antoine. Marie-Anne is clearly the center and therefore the subject of the painting. All of the light in the painting is focused on her; she is literally shadowing him. Plus, her hair is ridiculous and awesome (Is that a weave? Is that a mullet? We may never know!) and the eye is immediately drawn to it, whereas Antoine is shown in black, depicted almost as if he was her shadow. Antoine’s eye is drawn to Marie-Anne (which must have mistaken for resentment), with a look of awe on his face. He is distracted by her, but in a good way: she is a distracting piece. Marie-Anne, with her radiating facial features, stupendous weave, and bright colors, is a distracting piece.
So, I know this is more of a rant than a convincing legal argument, but this painting and the historically and scientifically momentous people within it deserve the respect their work has earned, not the judgement of someone who doesn’t know their history.
Words and illustrations by Ella Luna.