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Louis Joseph César Ducornet

Today marks the 218th birthday of the French painter Louis Joseph César Ducornet! Ducornet was a renowned painter in the 1800s who painted solely with his foot due to his phocomelia.


A self portrait painting of Ducornet, a man without arms and shortened legs, painting a portrait of a woman using his foot. He has a buttoned jacket over his shoulders and is looking directly at the viewer. He is a white man with a straight face.
Louis Joseph César Ducornet

His work focused on biblical depictions but also included sketches and portraits, with his self portrait arguably becoming one of his most famous pieces. His achievements included studying under a number of renowned French artists (Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, François Louis Joseph Watteau and François Gérard) and painting an eleven feet high depiction of Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus after the resurrection that was purchased by the French government.


painting of mary magdelene looking up with arms beneath her pointed outwards, whilst angels look over her
Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

It’s important to remember that despite his accomplishments and talents, he was notably unable to enter the competition for the prestigious Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for students of art established by King Louis XIV, because of his disability.


An old newspaper article about Ducornet. His self portrait sits in the middle of the page with text around it. The text discusses how extraordinary his talents and accomplishments are despite his disability, and discusses his disability in a particularly negative and derogatory way.
Print from Ballou’s Pictorial Newspaper, 1855

An article from the American Ballou’s Pictorial Newspaper in 1855, seemingly attempting to write a flattering account of Ducornet, described him as someone with "more than an ordinary share of intelligence and talent, joined with an amiability scarcely ever found in a person so utterly crippled."



Despite the barriers Ducornet faced and the negative attitude towards disability in the 1800s, he achieved a successful career as an artist and showed pride in his disability. His self portraits show a palette held by him with one toe and a paintbrush held with his other foot, and he signed his canvases with “Ducornet, né sans bras” (Ducornet, born without arms).


Signature at the bottom of his self portrait, "C. DUCORNET né sans bras 1852"
Seen at the bottom of his self portrait, "C. DUCORNET né sans bras 1852"

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