Sunday, November 6, 2016

1749-1803: Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, French

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was one of the most prominent portrait artists in France in the late 1700s. She was also a master of miniatures and pastels.

Although Adélaïde flattered her subjects as required, she still showed a remarkable truth to character, without romanticization.

Her career was based on patronage from the ladies of the French court. However, she was sympathetic to certain aims of the Revolution, and afterward, she attempted to redefine herself as an artist in the new Republic.

She was also a strong proponent of art training for women and their right to build careers on an equal footing with men.


Adélaïde Labille was the youngest of eight children. Her parents owned a men's clothing shop in Paris. Although her parents did not provide the artistic environment that nurtured many other women artists, their family shop and home was on a fashionable street in the heart of Paris, close to the Louvre and the Royal Academy. Many artists lived in the neighborhood, both those who were members of the Academy, and those who had failed, and then joined a trade guild called the Academy of Saint Luke.


Although nothing is known about how Adélaïde learned art skills, she must have been quite accomplished when she began formal training at the age of 20, in 1769. Not only was she accepted as an apprentice by François-Elie Vincent, a recognized painter of portrait miniatures, who lived near her home, but she was able to show some of her works at the Academy of Saint Luke, and when she married, that same year, the marriage contract referred to her as a professional painter there. Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was also a member of that academy, along with over 100 other women artists.

In 1769, Adélaïde married Nicolas Guiard, who lived on the same street. He was an official with the French Clergy.

In 1774,  Adélaïde began to study the art of pastel with Maurice Quentin de La Tour, arguably the greatest pastel artist ever, who also lived in the neighborhood.

Around 1777, she started to work in oils so that she could apply to the Royal Academy. Her tutor was François-André Vincent, the son of her former tutor.  He was to become a leader of the neoclassical and historical movement in French art.

Adélaïde and François became very close, fueling speculation of a romance. The two had known each other since she was studying with his father. They might have been romantically involved at that time, but the fact that he was protestant made him unacceptable to her father, who was Catholic.

Adélaïde separated from her husband Nicholas that year, and their separation was legalized in 1779. They did not have children. Adélaïde continued to sign her work Labille-Guiard, as was conventional at the time.

Adélaïde set up her own studio in 1780, and established royal and aristocratic patrons for her pastels, oil paintings, and miniatures. By 1783, she had taken on nine women students.

Also in 1783, Adélaïde was admitted to the French Royal Academy, the same day as Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. She exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1783 to 1791, through the start of the French Revolution. She showed 50 paintings in 1783, including a dozen of members of the Academy. Adélaïde also continued to work in pastels.

In 1787, Adélaïde was named official painter to Louis XVI's two maiden aunts, and painted their portraits and other works for them.

The French Revolution started in 1789.

Despite her royal patronage, Adélaïde was sympathetic to some aspects of the Revolution. She stayed in France, and attempted to redefine herself as an artist in the new Republic. Not only did she exhibit the portraits of Robespierre and other leaders of the Revolution at the 1791 Salon, but she also built on her reputation as a teacher of young women by proposing a new system for educating girls.

In 1793, the Royal Academy was shut down by the National Assembly, and the various successor institutions barred women.

In 1795 she was granted an artist’s apartment the Louvre and a substantial pension.

In 1800, when Adélaïde was 50, she married her painting tutor, and long-time friend, François-André Vincent. The marriage lasted until her death four years later.

Our photos of Adélaïde's work:

Self-portrait with Two Pupils, 1785
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

The student on the left in the painting above is Marie Capet. Below is a painting that Marie painted after Adélaïde's death showing her tutor painting the director of the Royal Academy. Behind Adélaïde   stands her teacher, and husband, François-André Vincent, who is making a suggestion. The Vincents had virtually adopted Capet. She shows herself in the left foreground.

Marie Capet, 1761-1818
The atelier of Madame Vincent,
This self-portrait shows that she, too, was quite talented at the romantic portraits that were popular in her day.

Marie Capet, 1761-1818
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo / Internet

Our photos of Adélaïde's work:

Portrait of Madame Adélaïde, c. 1787
Lexington / Jan's photo, 2013
Madame Adélaïde was the powerful aunt of Louis XVI and Labille-Guiard's principal patron.

Portrait of Madame de Genlis, 1790
LACMA / Jan's photo, 2014

François-André Vincent, c. 1795
Louvre / Jan's photo, 2015

Portrait of Joachim Le Breton, 1795
Nelson-Atkins / Jan's photo, 2013

Portrait of Dublin-Tornelle, c. 1799
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006 

The above is a portrait of a Parisian actor known as Dublin. He is holding a script. The painting was wrongly attributed to Jacque-Louis David for many years due to a fake signature, which was later uncovered.

Internet Examples:

The Sculptor Augustin Pajou, 1783

Portrait of François-André Vincent, c. 1783

Princess Élisabeth of France, c. 1787
Metropolitan / Internet

The Comtesse de Selve, 1787
oil on canvas
Private collection / Internet

Portrait of Louise-Elisabeth of France with her son, 1788
Palace of Versailles / Internet
This portrait of Madame Louise-Elisabeth of France, Infante d'Espagne, Duchesse de Parme, was commissioned by King Louis XVI's aunts and it shows one of the daughters of Louis XV with her son.

Charles-Roger, prince de Bauffremont, 1791

This painting of a prince was exhibited two years after the beginning of the French Revolution, making it quite out of step with the times.