Simanaitis Says

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PITY THE LAVOISIERS, Antoine-Laurent and his wife Marie-Anne Paulze. This French scientific partnership was instrumental in the transition from qualitative chemistry and biology to quantitative endeavors. Pity Jacques-Louis David, French artist, who was commissioned to paint the couple’s portrait in the late 1780s. 

Talk about a socio-artistic quagmire, one that has been better understood only recently. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on this matter.

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Father of Chemistry. Lavoisier was born in 1743 into a wealthy family of nobility. Wikipedia notes, “Lavoisier’s education was filled with the ideals of the French Enlightenment… While Lavoisier is commonly known for his contributions to the sciences, he also dedicated a significant portion of his fortune and work benefitting the public.” 

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, 1743–1794, French scientist and nobleman, the Father of Chemistry.

Many of Lavoisier’s experiments formed the basis of modern chemistry. In 1778, Lavoisier identified “vital air” as oxygène and first explained the chemical process of combustion. In 1781, he identified  “inflammable air” as hydrogen.

The Ferme Générale. Lavoisier’s experiments were largely self-financed, supported by his investment in the Ferme Générale. Wikipedia describes this firm as “a tax farming financial company which advanced the estimated tax revenue to the royal government in return for the right to collect taxes.” Sort of a freelance quasi-IRS.

“On behalf of the Ferme Générale,” Wikipedia continues, “Lavoisier commissioned the building of a wall around Paris so that customs duties could be collected from those transporting goods into and out of the city.” 

La Bohème, Act III, is set adjacent to such a customs barrier.

Lavoisier’s involvement with Ferme Générale was to have profound effect on his life.

Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier. Marie-Anne’s nobleman father Jacques ran the Ferme Générale. In 1771, at age 13, Marie-Anne received a marriage proposal from a 50-year-old count. Wikipedia notes, “Jacques Paulze tried to object to the union, but received threats about losing his job with the Ferme Générale. To indirectly thwart the marriage, Jacques Paulze made an offer to one of his colleagues to ask for his daughter’s hand instead. This colleague was Antoine Lavoisier…..”

Antoine and Marie-Anne were wed December 16, 1771.

Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier, 1758–1836, French noblewoman, wife, laboratory assistant, and communicator of Antoine Lavoisier’s work. 

A Research Partnership. Marie-Anne’s fluent English helped Antoine keep abreast of scientific developments. She also received formal training in chemistry. The Lavoisiers became a productive duo of researchers.

Marie-Annie, at right, documents Antoine’s experimentation in respiration in the 1770s. 

Tomorrow in Part 2, we see how the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror affected this loving partnership and even altered a work of art. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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