TikTok’s Viral 19th-Century Painting

Gone Viral

Female rage is all the rage on TikTok. The Hesitant Fiancée, an 1866 painting by Auguste Toulmouche, has gone viral 157 years after its release. But what has made her withering stare stand the test of time (and Gen Z)? Well, authentic expression, of course. Toulmouche’s depiction of a glowering gal has become a meme for all flavors of female rage and a way for TikTok girlies to express their relatable wrath. Over six million views later, here’s what we know about TikTok’s viral 19th-century painting and how you can achieve the look.


The Art’s History

The Hesitant Fiancée (sometimes referred to as The Reluctant Bride) is a 19th-century painting by Auguste Toulmouche. Formerly known for his depiction of idle, submissive, “delicious dolls,” Toulmouche stripped away the facade and added layers of emotional complexity to his rendering of the anonymous bride-to-be who rebelled against her arranged marriage with a dour stare. While Toulmouche did not veer far from his usual style and lavish use of color and texture, the grandiosity is overshadowed by the fiancée’s scathing stare.


@voxdotcom This viral painting, explained in 60 seconds. Who do you think she’s looking at? 👀 #arthistory #memes #arttok ♬ sonido original – Bryan Bojorquez | Música


Toulmouche’s Realism

Known for his depictions of wealthy Parisian women and their idealized expressions, Telmouche abandoned the loose, freely brushed strokes of his impressionist counterparts and opted for academic realism instead. It is no wonder his less-known painting has become a viral sensation in the digital age of authenticity. And authentic it is. Like the fiancée he portrayed, Telmouche rebelled against tradition by showing authentic anger that should have otherwise been masked. Why was the bride-to-be so angry? Most women in the 19th century lost all rights upon entering an arranged marriage, and this fiancée was not afraid to display her dismay.

Auguste Toulmouche, 19th Century. Oil painting on wood; 43.18 x 39.37 cm (17 x 15.5 in). Dijon, France: Magnin National Museum.

Auguste Toulmouche, 19th Century. Oil painting on wood; 43.18 x 39.37 cm (17 x 15.5 in).


Relatable Rage

The willful bride-to-be is unwilling to surrender to her fate, at least not emotionally. The male gaze is no match for her gaze. It is an expression of rage universally understood by women and a quiet rebellion against the many injustices we women face. It is a defiant, direct, and dramatic gaze that pierces through the hearts of those it meets. The gaze has struck a chord with the women of today and a nerve with the target of their anger. When an emotion so primal and intrinsic to the human condition is unabashedly expressed, it becomes relatable on a mass level. As the age-old aphorism goes, the more specific something is, the more universal it becomes. In the case of the fiery fiancée, her expression was real enough to make internet meme history.


@thehistorygossip If Female Range was a Painting: The Hesitant Fiancée #femalerage #hesitantfiancee #painting #victorian #history #historytok #historytiktok ♬ sonido original – Bryan Bojorquez | Música


The Making of a Meme

The painting has become a meme and a conduit for female vindication. Users across TikTok are plastering text atop the painting to voice their rage and bring the fiancée to life through their personal expressions. Typically, the meme will feature two slides: a wide shot of the painting and a closeup of the stare, to amplify the drama and reveal the punchline. The image is paired with the wrathful Dies irae sequence from Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem to further fuel the fury felt.


@jamieleeclementsxox #MemeCut #Meme #capcut #hesitantfiance #fypシ゚viral #blowthisup #moodswingsbelike ♬ sonido original – Bryan Bojorquez | Música


The Kubrick Stare

The stare is not an unfamiliar look, and you can find it repeatedly in the films of Stanley Kubrick. It is a stare that signals rage and, when accompanied by a smile, can indicate maniacal, menacing mayhem is about to ensue. The stare has become a trademark of Kubrick’s films.


“In that showdown, and at several other times in the film, Kubrick indulges his favorite closeup, a shot of a man glowering up at the camera from beneath lowered brows. This was the trademark visual in A Clockwork Orange, and Jack Nicholson practiced it in The Shining. What does it mean? That Kubrick thinks it’s an interesting angle from which to shoot the face, I think.”

Roger Ebert, review of Full Metal Jacket


Alex looking up in a Clockwork Orange

Jack looking up in the Shining


Get the Look

While we do not advise stirring up your emotions, you can achieve the look with simple facial motions. If you want to replicate the look or express your anger in a very stylized manner, here’s how:


  1. Tilt your head down
  2. Look up at your eyebrows


Voilà! You have now embodied the viral stare.


Gif of Joaquin Phoenix looking up as Commodus in the Gladiator


Go Viral with Creators

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