Saturday, March 1, 2014

"ADELAIDE THE GREAT"

The first time I saw Adelaide Labille-Guiard's painting "Self-Portrait with Two Pupils" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City,  I could not take my eyes off of it.   It was clearly a masterpiece that both challenged and invited me to investigate its contents.   I have since then learned much about Adelaide and her remarkable career in the arts during the tumultuous time of the French Revolution.  

"Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, -Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818)

 and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788)", 

by Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Metropolitan Museum of Art


"Self-Portrait with Two Pupils" was exhibited in 1785 in the bi-annual Salon show of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the premier art establishment of the era, (participating artists were given the prestigious opportunity to exhibit in its members show held at Palace of the Louvre every two years). At the time, the Academy limited the number of women members to four.  The accepted four were -- Adelaide Labille-Guiard, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Anne Vallayer-Coster and Marie-Therese Reboul.


"View of the Salon of 1785" by Pietro Antonio Martini, Metropolitan Museum of Art
 Above you can see, circled in red, where Adelaide's painting was hung.  Also shown in the same exhibition was Jacques-Louis David's "Oath of the Horatii"(center, second from top). The critics loved her "Self-Portrait with Two Pupils".  As a matter of fact, Adelaide's painting was so well received, that she was inspired to ask for lodging at the Louvre, a privilege that only male artists enjoyed.  She wanted to have her atelier at the great palace, where she could paint and teach. Her request was denied. It was argued, that since she was a teacher of young women, it was not a good idea to allow them in the same halls of the palace, where young male students studied with their mentors, this could possibly lead to indecent behavior at the Louvre.  In the end, she did not leave empty handed, Adelaide Labille-Guiard had the support and admiration of Madame Adelaide and her sister Victoire, Aunts of King Louis XVI , and she was awarded an annual pension of 1000 livres.  

Adelaide was gutsy in the creation of this painting.  She depicts herself confronting the viewer head on, in a rather revealing dress, with two pupils standing behind-- her way of including two female students in the male dominated Salon show. It is really amazing that she decided to paint something so daring, but she needed to do something that would garner attention.  She had just been involved in public gossip, which almost ruined her career.  Two years earlier, a scandalous pamphlet, named the "Marlborough pamphlet" had been produced that attacked the women of the Salon, particularly Adelaide, claiming that she was having an affair with the painter, Francois Andre-Vincent and that he helped her paint her paintings- a clear attack on her talent.   Adelaide was able to stop production of the pamphlet, and have the remaining copies seized--with the help of her Royal patrons, but some damage was done.  Her solution was to have Royal Academicians sit for portraits, so she could show them her skills, including Joseph- Marie Vien, the powerful ex-director of the French Academy in Rome.  A very smart move.  The resulting portraits were beautiful.

The provenance of "Self Portrait with Two Pupils"  is fascinating.  This painting remained in Adelaide's family for about 100 years.  It was offered to the Louvre in about 1878 and they refused it!! ??  In 1905 it was sold to a collector and in 1953, it was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City by Julia A. Berwind.   What a wonderful stroke of luck for the Met, to own such a masterful work of art!

Although Adelaide had strong ties to the women of the royal family and she was appointed "Pientre des Mesdames"--"Painter of the Princesses of France" she became a supporter of the French Revolution.  She painted 14 members of the National Assembly, including Maximilien Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution.    The times were changing and she became a leader and advocate for the future of women and their rights to exhibit in the Academy.  You might say, she was definitely a woman of strong character.  She was a dedicated teacher to female artists , inspiring them to pursue a career in the arts, no matter what the obstacles.



INTERESTING BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS:


BORN  1749

DIED  1803

BIRTH PLACE  Paris, France

FAMILY  Youngest of eight children.  All her siblings died by the time she was a teenager.  Her father was a clothing merchant and had a boutique called "La Toilette".  Perhaps this explains Adelaide's keen eye for painting fabrics and textures.


Detail of "Portrait of a Woman", Musee des beaux-arts, Quimper, France



Detail of "Portrait of the Comtesse deSelve", Switzerland, Private Collection
Detail of "Portrait of a Woman Wearing a White Dress Lined
with Red Velvet",



EARLY STUDIES Studied miniature painting with Francois-Elie Vincent (her future second husband's father).  She also studied with French Pastel master Quentin de la Tour.

MARRIAGE(S)  Married to Nicolas Guiard in 1769, whom she divorced in 1779.  Married Francois-Andre Vincent in 1799.

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS:  Thomas Jefferson visited Guiard and paid her 240 livres
for a picture.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: A wonderful monograph on Adelaide:  "Adelaide Labille-Guiard : "Artist In The Age Of Revolution" written by Laura Auricchio.

I will end this post with a poem written by a critic
who saw Adelaide's "Self-Portrait with Two Pupils" on display circa 1785:

I have blown kisses to the two mischievous faces on

Which the eye deliciously rests, and to the mouth

From which one could have such pleasure in hearing spoken the pretty

Word that you breathe, and that you have spoken

Sometimes with emotion, isn't it true, beautiful

Guyard?...But...I feel myself moved, ah Guyard!

Guyard! I must flee your eyes, I must...




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