J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Marie-Anne Lavoisier and Her Men

This weekend, the New York Times reports, two Nobel laureates and an art historian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will discuss Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Antoine and Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier at the World Science Festival in New York.

The newspaper gives us this primer on the Lavoisiers:
Born into wealth in 1743, Lavoisier was a powerful aristocrat and politician as well as a scientist and an administrator of the Ferme Généale, a group of often corrupt tax collectors. A measure of Lavoisier’s social and financial position, Dr. [Kathryn] Galitz [the art historian] said, was that he paid more for the portrait of himself and his wife than had the king, Louis XVI, for one of his own.

Lavoisier married Marie-Anne when he was 28 and she 13, but she grew into more than a muse, doing illustrations for his papers and helping with experiments, a partnership emphasized by David’s painting, which shows Lavoisier sitting at a table littered with papers and chemical apparatus, looking up at his wife, who is leaning over him with her hand on his shoulder. “She was as much of a serious chemist as a woman could be,” Dr. Galitz said. “She’s there in the thick of things.”
What’s the Boston 1775 connection here? (Besides the fact that both my parents have doctorates in chemistry.)

Antoine Lavoisier was guillotined for his tax-collecting and political activity in 1794. Ten years later, after a four-year courtship, Marie-Anne remarried. Her new husband was another well-known scientist and government administrator—none other than Woburn’s own Benjamin Thompson, by then known as Count Rumford.

The couple’s relationship quickly deteriorated—neither was really the monogamous or compromising type. Marie-Anne Lavoisier kept her first husband’s surname. She and Rumford separated after about a year, but remained legally married until his death in 1814.

1 comment:

Kit Rawlins said...

Amazing post! I've always admired this portrait of their loving partnership and was very sad when I found out he had been executed. I had no idea, though, that she had later married the Count--extraordinary. Kit