From Mona Lisa to Gustav Klimt, pregnancy in art through the ages
‘Woman of Willendorf’ statuette
Found in 1908 during the excavation of a Palaeolithic site in Willendorf, Austria, it is impossible to be sure what cultural significance this statuette possesses. However it is clear that the body parts required and revered for their involvement in pregnancy and fertility have been emphasised including the breasts and the hips.
‘The Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci
The portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine cloth merchant Francesco Giocondo, is unarguably the world’s most recognised artwork. But could pregnancy actually be the secret behind Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile? When scientists from the National Research Council of Canada used laser and infra-red scans to provide a 3D mapping of the painting, it was established that the Mona Lisa’s clothes revealed she was pregnant or just had a baby. This corresponds with the historical account provided by the Louvre that Lisa gave birth to a son in 1502.
‘Sien Pregnant Walking With Older Woman’, Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh is famous for his vibrant impressionist paintings, but it is one of his lesser known works that captures pregnancy on paper. This simple pencil drawing of his pregnant lover Sien Hoornik, walking with her mother is part of a series of works on her, and her children. The pair wished to marry, but their relationship was disapproved of because of her low social status.
‘The Artist’s Wife’, L. A. Ring (Laurits Andersen Ring)
Danish artist L. A. Ring painted this blissful depiction of pregnancy in 1897. The subject of the work is Ring’s pregnant young wife Sigrid Kahler. Next to her stands a myrtle tree, a known symbol of love.
‘Hope, II’, Gustav Klimt
Typical of the Austrian artist’s highly-decorative works, this exquisite gold leaf painting is the second of Klimt’s ‘Hope’ canvases. Birth and death both figure in this deeply contemplative study of pregnancy. The title suggests the promise of new life, but balancing over the woman’s rounded belly is death’s head, an unsettling symbol of the fragility of existence.
‘The Pregnant Woman’ Pablo Picasso
Françoise Gilot, with whom Picasso had two children in the late 1940s, Claude and Paloma, said that she believed the artist made Pregnant Woman to try to influence her to become pregnant again when she refused to have a third child. Picasso incorporated fragments of discarded pottery vessels into the original plaster versions of the sculpture, forming the rounded face, breasts, and abdomen.
‘Eight Months Gone’ Lucian Freud
As the title suggests, supermodel Jerry Hall was eight months pregnant with her son Gabriel at the time of sitting for the British artist. The work is part of a series of nude paintings he created from the ’50s to the ’90s featuring models sat or reclining on couches. A second painting by Freud of Hall breastfeeding her son wasn’t so favourable. Displeased that she missed the last few sittings, he painted over her head with that of his male assistant David Dawson.
‘Pregnancy’ Xiaohong Zhang
Chinese-born, US-based artist Zhang Xiahong specialises in traditional paper cutting, one of the oldest art forms in China. This intricate paper-cut work represents a baby nestled and nurtured within intricate networks of vines and leaves which form the figure of a woman.
‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ Marc Quinn
This 15 tonne, marble nude sculpture depicts a heavily pregnant Alison Lapper, a pioneering artist who was born without arms. The neo-classical style of the work is in sharp contrast to the ground-breaking subject it portrays and demonstrates that disability is not a restriction to pregnancy.
‘Sienna (Pregnant)’ Jonathan Yeo
Part of the leading British portrait artist’s ‘(I’ve Got You) Under My Skin’ exhibition, the oil on canvas work was painted only a matter of weeks before Sienna Miller gave birth to her daughter. Yeo created his much-talked about portrait of the world-famous actress to challenge contemporary perceptions of pregnancy and nudity.