' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Two mothers. Birth and Adoptive

Monday, June 11, 2012

Two mothers. Birth and Adoptive

Две матери. Мать приемная и родная


Readers, use your imagination and tell the story behind this picture. What happened? What's going to happen?

The title of the picture, painted in 1906 by Vladimir Makovsky, translates literally from the Russian to "Two of the mother. His mother and foster native." Others have called it "Two mothers. Native mother and stepmother" and "Two mothers. Birth and Adoptive."

Makovsky (1846-1920) was a critic of Russian aristocracy and "stood uncompromisingly on the side of oppressed people. After the October 1917 Revolution, Makovsky helped carry over the realist traditions to the early stages of Socialist Realism" the purpose of which was to further the goals of socialism and communism (Wikipedia).

Jane and Lorraine

Vladimir Makovsky


  1. This little boy looks terrified. It is hard to look at the rest of the picture. I cannot move past his look of fear.

  2. I see a woman holding her child back from another woman, who is holding some "document", possibly trying to claim him. Not too far off from the modern version of "adoption".

  3. but wait... the woman holding the document IS his real mother and is trying to claim him back? I didn't look closely enough, because the woman holding the document is not as nicely dressed and looks more oppressed...?

  4. Interesting painting. A writer could invest much time in imagining a back story to this, and probably many of us looking at it see the figures through the lens of our own experiences.

    As an art historian, I am curious about the painting in terms of its context, the artist, etc. The title is certainly nuanced beyond what we're thinking about, and may refer also, given Makovsky's background and the politics of the time, to the two Mother Russias: aristocracy/urban bourgeoisie vs. the serfs. Class is overtly an issue here. I am also led to think of wet nurses and foster mothers of that sort, coming not of the wealthy classes, and what their claims might be on the children they cared for.

    Makovsky does not seem to have engendered much scholarly research in English. I am not fluent in Russian, but it would be enlightening to read what the critics said about the painting at the time it was painted (if it was exhibited then, probably in Moscow). How did contemporary critics categorize the relationship between the women in the painting, and between each of them and the child, I wonder? While we can read into it from our standpoint, I'd like to know what the painting can tell us about Makovsky's ideas about adoption in Russia circa 1906.

  5. The man next to the window--the father?--looks so detached, smoking away. "It's not my problem," he seems to think, while the women will be the ones to reach whatever step is taken next.

  6. Perhaps the mother standing with the papers is seeking to claim her child. She is wearing peasant garb - maybe she was a servant in the household or a poor woman who took in laundry or performed other services for this family.

    The mother holding the child (defensively) appears more wealthly and concerned about either a demand or announcement the other mother is making; the papers are presented to prove her case (?) and the elderly woman in the background seems shocked at what is happening. Not sure about the man (adoptive father?) whose eyebrows are slightly raised as if he is suprised by the conversation taking place.

    The papers and the sack held by the peasant mother seem significant. Does she want to leave town and take the child with her using the papers to claim her legal right to do so?

    Hmm, interesting painting and many questions!

  7. Here is another link to a Russian site about the Makovsky painting:

    I'm sure a real live person who reads Russian could do a better job, but the wonky Google Translate version indicates that the woman in the red scarf is indeed the boy's mother.

    "The plot of the painting "Two Mothers. Reception and nativemother," according to the author, was also taken from life. Vladimir Makovsky said Shikhobalova that a similar incident occurred in the family of his friend the artist. The fate of two women and a child. In the family, who raised the boy to the people surrounding him with warmth and care, a woman broke into a stranger here, to show their parental rights. In a momentdestroyed the happiness of an entire family. Makovsky had a raretalent for penetration into the inner world of man, escaped from him not even the most subtle spiritual movement."


  8. I don't see any documents being held. The woman is holding a bag. She is clearly a peasant, probably a "wanderer." Th bag containers her earthly possessions.

    Of course, we don't know the context of the painting. Makovsky said it is based on an incident in the life of a friendm and you can bet he didn't hang with itinerant peasants. My interpretation is that the woman probably worked at some point on the estate. Perhaps in the kitchen. She left. It was not uncommon for gentry to take in the child of a servant who took off, was ill, or died. For all we know, she's shaking down the family.

    I don't see that the painting has much relevance to adoption. It looks like something out of Chekhov short story, though.

  9. I don't see any documents being held. The woman is holding a bag. She is clearly a peasant, probably a "wanderer." The bag containers her earthly possessions.

    Of course, we don't know the context of the painting. Makovsky said it is based on an incident in the life of a friendm and you can bet he didn't hang with itinerant peasants. My interpretation is that the woman probably worked at some point on the estate. Perhaps in the kitchen. She left. It was not uncommon for gentry to take in the child of a servant who took off, was ill, or died. For all we know, she's shaking down the family. As MM said, this is about class.

    I don't see that the painting has much relevance to adoption. It looks like something out of Chekhov short story, though.

  10. Based on the translation, it appears that the wealthy couple "adopted" the boy and the natural mother is reclaiming him.

    I am surprised that they aren't more comments supporting and celebrating the natural mother who is reclaiming her son. This blog advocates greater time periods during which a natural mother can change her mind after relinquishment and supports the return of children adopted in wrongful and fraudulent adoptions, regardless of the age of the child.

    I also agree that the child appears terrified.


  11. Interesting-kind of like one of those Rorschach butterflies-see what you want to see. From my birthmother perspective, I see a down-on-her-luck woman maybe a former housekeeper who had a baby(with the man in the picture?) and was then kicked to the curb(like I was by Social Services,his father,but not my family) and has come back to see her child. The boy is scared of her dishevelled appearance

  12. The child appears to be terrified of the biological mother who has burst in, quite possibly as Marley suggested, to shake the wealthy family down, The translation indicates that the artist had sympathy for the family who raised the boy.
    I too think that Makovsky's intention was to make a point about class, and that he wasn't even thinking about adoption as such when he painted it.


  13. Thanks to all who commented.

    My take is that the woman with the red babushka is the child's birth mother and wants him back. The younger woman and her husband (the Lenin look-a-like on the left) adopted the child because the younger woman carries the hemophilia gene and the couple was afraid of having biological children.

    The child was stolen from Red Babushka when he was an infant. She won't get him back because the adoptive family has lots of money to fight the claim, bribe judges, hire a PR person to gain public sympathy, whatever it takes.

    The younger woman is Lenin-look-a-likes second wife. He already has children with his first wife. He really doesn't care what happens to the boy; he just went along with the adoption to please her.

    The older woman in the back is the child's nanny. She's the one who stole the child and brought him to the younger woman. The nanny is feeling guilty and plans to go to the priest and confess her sin.

    Another thought is that Red Babushka is the boy's real mother but all she wants is money. She has a hard look, not the look of a mother who loves her child. The boy is frightened because he isn't used to seeing strangers in red babushkas.

    A whole different take is that the picture represents class struggle. The boy represents the privileges of the aristocracy. The younger woman and man want to keep their riches from Red Babushka who is telling them of the revolution to come if they don't give in to the demands of the poor.

    The older woman in the back is a servant who accepts her role in society and looks down on rabble like Red Babushka.

  14. Very little clue what is going on here, but clearly it is a bad situation for the terrified child.

    The peasant woman does not look loving or friendly, but like she is demanding something. Money? The child? Who knows, but whatever it is, he is very afraid and clinging to the mother he knows in terror.

    The father looks indifferent to the whole female drama; he looks bored; smoking and barely paying attention. The old woman (grandma?) looks distressed. The presumed adoptive mother looks like she is trying to comfort and protect the frightened child. Nobody is happy here. I do not know what the artist intended, but get the feeling that there are not clear-cut heroes or villains depicted.

    It is a most disturbing scene, but without knowing a lot more background about Russia at the time it was painted, it is impossible to gauge how it may or may not relate to adoption as we know it.

    Like Marley I did not see that the peasant woman was holding a paper until someone else mentioned it.

  15. Here's a steampunk version.

    The action is taking place in St. Petersburg. Outside it is 2020. Inside it is 1900. The old lady is the child's mother by gestational surrogacy (think Adriana Iliescu). She holds the purse strings and is distantly related to the Romanov family. The man is a specialist in reproductive medicine who goes off every day to a state of the art lab where he performs amazing feats with ART. He always uses his own sperm because he wants to go forth and multiply his fabulous genes. He appears younger than he really is because he dyes his hair with Grecian Formula and has had multiple face-lifts. The woman in white is his daughter and lab assistant and has become attached to the boy, her half-brother. The peasant woman with the red headscarf is really Sherlock Holmes in one of his impenetrable disguises. The boy's Real Mommy is the Tsarina who secretly donated her eggs because she had a premonition of the future, and wanted to secure the line. The document Sherlock Holmes is thrusting towards them says that evil genius Moriarty is on to them, and so they had better hand the boy over to Holmes and Watson. Dr. Watson is waiting in a high tech zeppelin hovering above the house. It was designed by Heath Robinson http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2074/2380800674
    Holmes and Watson intend to take the boy to safety, probably to an island in the Hebrides. The bag contains a pork pie, a Groucho Marx false nose and glasses set, glue and a false beard.
    The reason the young woman and child look so alarmed and are clinging to each other is because they have been taken aback, and have not yet assimilated the momentous information they have just received.


  16. A couple of amendments:

    The hemophilia gene has been eradicated by genetic engineering, so presents no problem.
    In fact boy has TWO fathers, the Tsar AND the doctor. The Tzar and Tzarina do not know that the evil Dr Moreausky has polluted the Imperial line and is actually in league with Professor Moriarty. As a consequence of having two fathers the boy has an evil twin who is being raised by Moriarty to wreak havoc on the world.

    To be continued . . .


  17. I don't get where people are seeing an expressions of indifference on the man's face. If you really examine it, he does have a subtle expression of concern. But like most reserved men, he just doesn't have that animated or startled an expression, plus he's smoking, so he was probably relaxed.

    I also don't see the woman with the head scarf as being manacing at all. Some people, especially those who labour, and have a hard life, develop a hardness to their countenance.

    I also don't see that the boy looks terrified.

    My take is this. The woman in the scarf is probably the mother. She has probably been a servant of the house hold. As was custom with wealthy people of that time frame, the wives didn't work. Their role was to be a wife and a mother. For any wife of that time who didn't have children, she would have likely sought some way to get a child, or to look after children. Thus it's possible the painting is depicting a wife who having no children of her own, took over a motherly role in the life of the son, (the boy she is holding) while the servant was busy with duties.

    It could be that, supposing the woman in the scarf is a servant, that she had decided she is leaving the family, for whatever reasons, and planning on taking her son with her. The servant mother could be showing documentation that that is her son, because she may feel it's needed, knowing the role the wife has taken with the servant's son. She may feel she needs that document stating the boy is her son, and she's leaving with him. The boy may simply just not be wanting to leave the place he has come to know as his home, and the wife who may have spent more time with him, and perhaps been more delicate, and attentive, since she wasn't busy with, and burnt out, from duties, as the servant mother.

    This scenario is very plausible, becuse it's unlikely that if it were that the woman in the scarf is the mother of the boy but that for whatever reason, she hadn't been in his life, but was now coming to claim him, that she would have a cloth bag with her. That bag likely signifies her possession, wrapped up, hence, that she is leaving, not that she just suddenly burst into the scene from out of nowhere.

    The older woman isn't likely a nanny, because even if the scene if of morning, (which it appears it is, I'll explain why I believe that) at breakfast time, nannies back in those days would still have had to be dressed in a type of work attired to care for the child as back then clothing was very important. Most people got up and got dressed into proper attire. As you can clearly see with the old woman, she is wearing a cap on her head, one she probably wore to bed, and her gown also looks one she would have slept in. She is likely the elderly mother of the man in the picture, and because of her age, hasn't gotten dressed up formerly yet. It's also likely winter, because of the scarf the old woman is wearing, and how bundled up the woman with the head scarf is. Plus looking out the window, it looks like their might be snow on the roof of the building across from them.

    That's my take.

    JL - mother, not an adopter.

  18. Interesting and beautiful painting. Have not seen the original in Russia, but have spent quite a bit of time in the Russian Art Museum (not the Hermitage but the museum of Russian artists) in St Petersburg. I certainly don't have a Russian art history degree though :) Makovsky was a supporter of the oppressed, primarily children and mothers. At the time this was painted, it's unlikely that a peasant woman as a stranger would be allowed in the dining room. Adult women kept their heads covered in public regardless of the time of year (and most still do). So, I'd guess she either worked for the family, or works for someone known to the family. It's unlikely as a peasant she would be literate to the point that she knew what was written on the paper she's handing. Since children belonged to their fathers, it's possible she works for child's "real father" and has been sent to claim him. Perhaps the father was assumed killed in a battle, and the mother re-married. "Real father" has sent his house maid to reclaim his child. She will now be the child's foster mother. Mom and child will suffer, and the man wins (which is what Makovsky seemed to fight against)

  19. The first paragraph of this article fits this post perfectly:

    "Little is known about the handmaids of the Bible, characters like Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilpah. The duties of a handmaid might have included bearing a child for the master of the house so he could have an heir if his wife could not bear him one. It was never presented as much of a choice to the handmaid.

    The truth is that women around the world still bear children for people of privilege. Only today it's called adoption and it's still never presented as much of a choice."




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