À la Bonne Femme (The Good Wife)

"Painting in watercolor was part of the curriculum...and was diligently studied by cultivated young ladies and accomplished housewives."


- Josephine Marjorie Newcombe


   À la Bonne Femme is a French cooking term. Translated into English it means “in the manner of a good housewife.” The twelve paintings in this series were created with watercolour, ink, and pencil on paper and are a commentary on the overlay of traditional women’s roles on modern society. This series functions both as social criticism and personal confession.


   Initially, I turned to watercolor out of necessity, but quickly came to embrace its symbolism. The demands of raising small children made traditional oils, with their high toxicity and rigid time demands, inaccessible. Trained in traditional Renaissance glazing techniques, I found the application methods naturally transferred to watercolour washes, with the added benefit of being able to resume painting in the small amounts of time that I had available. I began to think about the historical context of watercolor. Water-based paints have been in use since the earliest prehistoric times, but are not considered a “serious” media. Frequently viewed as a women’s or hobbyist’s medium, they were acceptable for use by accomplished young ladies, while at the same time marking their work as “feminine” and “amatuer.” I chose to embrace this idea. Why not make a subversive “Lady’s Portfolio” executed in a traditional style that chronicles the interior life of a modern housewife?


   The images in these paintings draw heavily on Victorian botanical and anatomical prints, the tradition of making copy-studies of museum pieces, and the work of (the female illustrators) Beatrix Potter and Tasha Tudor. Credit for the black humor wrapped in a pretty package goes to the lovely Jane Austen, and I adapted the geometric patterns that add structure to the negative spaces from textile designs and traditional Eastern European embroidery. These paintings are also highly indebted to my native San Antonio. Its fixation on Mexican iconography, as well as its ongoing love affair with all things Frida, exposed me to magic realism at a very young age and permanently forged my aesthetic.


   Conceived of originally as an illustrated guidebook to motherhood and housewifery, À la Bonne Femme(The Good Wife) also became my journal. I have long believed that in order to access the universal one must pinpoint the specific and personal. Through magic realism, I strove to portray the inner landscape that is often kept hidden from the outside world.

© 2015 Alison Sagebiel 


  • Instagram Social Icon