Adélaïde Labille–Guiard (French, 17491803)
Oil on canvas; 83 x 59 1/2 in. (210.8 x 151.1 cm)
Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953 (53.225.5)
Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was first apprenticed to a miniaturist and later, in 1769, studied the art of pastel with Maurice Quentin de La Tour. The rich palette and fine detail in the present picture, one of the earliest of her major works in oils, reflect her earlier training. In 1783, when Labille-Guiard and Vigée Le Brun were admitted to the French Academy, the number of women artists eligible for membership was limited to four, and this painting, which was exhibited to an admiring audience at the Salon of 1785, has been interpreted as a propaganda piece, arguing for the place of women in the Academy. The artist's fashionable dress asserts her femininity; the feminist mood is emphasized by the presence of her pupils and the statue of the Vestal Virgin in the background. Labille-Guiard achieved a certain success at court and, having painted a number of portraits of the aunts of Louis XVI, came to be known as Peintre des Mesdames. However, she sympathized with the Revolution and, unlike Vigée Le Brun, remained in France throughout her life.