Breastfeeding the Brave 

Leanne Pearce 

Leanne has specialised in portraiture since the early 2000s over which time she has developed a fresh and dynamic approach to capturing the likeness and character of the sitter. Leanne has had great success since completing her 1st degree in Fine Art at Northumbria University. She gained a place in the semi-finals of the ITV show ‘A Brush With Fame’ in which she painted a whole host of celebrities including Tanni Grey-Thompson and Paul Nicholas. She has reached the heats twice on Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (2018 and 2022), both times she was chosen by the celebrity and she also reached the top 3 in her heat.

Since starting a family of her own Leanne started a huge series of portraits about Breastfeeding mothers. This massive body of work is large-scale paintings of women breasting their children. Each story shows us an intimate moment of the individual stories of mothers and their children. You would think depicting one of the most natural moments between a mother and child would not be so controversial.

The subject matter is highly charged. Unfortunately, the press is largely focusing on negative stories which tend to undermine the precious value of breastfeeding. Breasts have also become sexualised and it is almost deemed abnormal to breastfeed, especially in public in the United Kingdom.

This series of work has pushed Leanne into more thought-provoking portraits. She coined the term Portraits with Purpose to showcase portraits with a little more political and activist meaning. In 2018 she did a series of large-scale drawings of leading UK politicians and how they addressed the Brexit debate by drawing them in a certain facial expression. She has created large pencil drawings of Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to showcase the importance of their work and words on climate change.  

So there is no surprise when Leanne was asked by researcher and former paediatric nurse, Lyndsey Hookway to create these powerful portraits she knew it was her purpose, not just a painting.

Breastfeeding the Brave seeks to tackle an under-researched area, highlighting the needs and challenges of medically complex infants and children in the paediatric setting. Drawing on novel research it explores the difficulties of feeding children with both common as well as serious, critical and life-limiting conditions. Topics covered include respiratory compromise, complex fluid and calorie needs, positioning challenges, low tone and altered reflexes, as well as changes to breastfeeding behaviour which together mean that sick children in paediatrics sometimes require a creative and unique approach to supporting lactation.

Please click on the individual images to get a closer look.