Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Burning of Adelaide Labille-Guiard's Masterpiece

"The Burning of Adelaide Labille-Guiard's Masterpiece" 2015, Oil on Linen, 70x105 in, by Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso


by Donald Miller

From the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century, the highest form of art was history painting, capturing in paint and canvas events from the historic past. It is particularly appropriate that Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso, a fine artist with many successful one-woman exhibitions, should be a teacher of painting at New York City’s historic National Academy of Design, founded by famous American artists in 1825.
     Dellosso’s search for accomplished women artists led her some years ago to the self-portraits of brilliant and largely self-supporting French artist Adelaide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803). Her paintings are exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Louvre and other cultural sites.   
     Deepening her appreciation of Labille-Guiard, her favorite historic painter, Dellosso first depicted herself in an oil painting as a student of Labille-Guiard.
     In that work Dellosso’s pose differs from Labille-Guiard’s self-portrait at the Metropolitan Museum. In that group portrait, Labille-Guiard, dressed in her fine clothes, instructs two women students. Yet Dellosso, in her own painting instantly recalling Labille-Guiard’s work, stands in homage beside the French artist as though she is instructing Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso at the easel.
    But there is more to consider than such juxtaposing, as Dellosso would continue to do in her self-portrait at the easel with Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun (1755-1842). Marie Antoinette’s favorite painter, Vigée-Le Brun would escape the Terror by painting nobles in Italy and Russia.
     Dellosso’s body of work includes other self-portraits in widely differing works where she is not only the creator of paintings but is also their subject in various dress forms suitable to different time periods. She calls them her homages.
    In Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso’s The Burning of Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s Masterpiece, 2015 (oil on linen canvas, seventy inches tall by one hundred and fifteen inches wide), she brilliantly depicts herself as Labille-Guiard herself, swooning in a female student’s arms in 1793. The Parisian artist is overcome by horror. She stares as two uniformed soldiers and their followers smash and burn her large unfinished group portrait of a royal prince, the Comte de Provence, on which Labille-Guiard had labored two and a half years.
  Entitled Receiving a Knight of St. Lazare by Monsieur, Grand Master of the Order, the work refers to the Comte de Provence, who as next oldest brother of King Louis XVI, was traditionally called Monsieur at court.
    The original painting was destroyed and Labille-Guiard was falsely suspected of being a royalist because of several portraits of royals, including the daughters of Louis XV, she had done. But ironically, Labille-Guiard was politically a republican and even painted a portrait of rebel leader Maximilien Robespierre. Labille-Guiard would never attempt as large or complex a painting again. The Comte de Provence would return to France some sixteen years later after the fall of Napoleon I.
   In exile the Comte de Provence gathered a large court of outlawed French nobles and assumed the title Louis XVIII, eventually succeeding Louis XVI’s uncrowned son who had died in prison.
   Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso’s painting eloquently depicts Labille-Guiard’s anguish. It is meant to be seen as though you are there. Her broken and burning painting is contrasted vividly with the soldiers’ indifference as they destroy the art she labored on for so long. The gray smoke that swirls and rises from the flames is almost palpable.


 Donald Miller has been a writer and journalist for more than sixty years. With degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Donald Miller was employed for forty-three years by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In semi-retirement, he was an art critic at the Naples, Florida, Daily News and continues to write for magazines.  
Mr. Miller is the author of seven books, mostly on artists and architects, including Louis Comfort Tiffany and egg tempera master Robert Vickrey. He has interviewed many interesting people. They include Andy Warhol, Paul Mellon, Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, Victor Vasarely, Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei, Michael Graves, Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Swanson and Gloria Vanderbilt.
     Mr. Miller's latest book, Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy, offers more information than any other book in English about the champion of freedom. Lafayette knew the Comte de Provence as a youth at Versailles and became the autocratic future Louis XVIII’s sworn enemy.

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