19th-Century “Reluctant Bride” Painting Spurs Flurry of TikTok Memes

Auguste Toulmouche, “La Fiancée Hésitante” (“The Reluctant Bride”) (1866), oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 21 inches (image via Wikimedia Commons)

As anyone who has spent more than two minutes with a teenage girl can tell you, the exasperated eyeroll is among the deadliest weapons in the female arsenal. The art of disrespect through facial expression has been given a history lesson this month, as TikTok has become enamored of an 1866 painting by French artist Auguste Toulmouche depicting a woman who is less than enthralled with her imminent nuptials.

“La Fiancée Hésitante” translates as “The Hesitant Fiancée” or “The Reluctant Bride” — but reluctant feels like a bit of an understatement here. “Mad as hell” might be a little more on the nose, for a subject who appears — like many women throughout time — to be on the precipice of forced marriage to a person not of her choosing. It’s enough to make even the most genteel lady issue some colorful language, as imagined by a TikTok by the educational art history platform @sanstitre_live:

While arranged marriage is no longer the only option for women making their way beyond their family home, Toulmouche seems to have struck on a timeless theme: women being annoyed about the shit we have to put up with. A collection of memes by @ceraunic captures the universal feeling of dread elicited by phrases such as “you ladies alright?” and “you should smile more.”

Of course, this is not the only eternal theme captured within the tableaux — another motif of the painting is much more heartwarming. As long as there are women exasperated with their love lives, there will be other women there to console them. The reluctant fiancée is totally the Carrie, amirite?

And if she’s the Carrie, then the Charlotte is the little girl in the background, mugging for the mirror the bridal wreath, as yet full of naive hope about the prospect of romance. But we, the bride, know better.

Usually backed by a dramatic choral snippet from an original work by Bryan Bojorquez, this meme really captures the swirling, repressed rage that we all feel from time to time, if we’re being honest. As the work of Nicole Tersigni proved in her 2020 book Men to Avoid in Art and Life, the reluctant bride is not the only character in classical painting suffering through nonsense, nor the only one with art historical friends coming through in the clutch. Will Toulmouche’s TikTok-famous couple make it through the honeymoon? Given this expression, I don’t like his odds.

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