A Forgotten Female Artist - Adelaide Labille-Guiard

"She was known to be an advocate for women rights and believed women should receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts"

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803)

By Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - Unknown source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=191864

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was a French miniaturist and portrait painter. She was known to be an advocate for women rights and believed women should receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts and be able to become great painters. 

Her most important work is considered the “Self-Portrait with Two Pupils,” which she made and exhibited in 1785. It’s a lifesize, full-length portrait of a modern woman who is sitting in front of her easel teaching younger women to paint. Adelaide was, in fact, a teacher to young women aspiring to become artists. She was trying to increase the number of females who were enrolled in art academies and to promote their talent so that they could be equal to male artists.

Painting of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard painted in 1808 by her pupil Marie Capet.

By Marie-Gabrielle Capet - Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3961024

She was one of two women, the other being Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun to be accepted into the Académie Royale in 1783, and one of only 12 to ever attend the prestigious college. There she grew famous, successful and rather wealthy, being paid 10s of thousands to paint portraits of members of the royal family.

However, being a woman in art was controversial and Adelaide was victim to countless allegations made by men, including other artists at the time. For example, an anonymous poem attempted to attack her morals by stating that she had over 2,000 lovers. Several male artists at the time expressed similar sentiments to this stating that “The rewards destined for artists cannot be without danger for women [since art requires] long and hard study … incompatible with the modest virtues of their sex”. It appeared they simply did not believe women could be artists or could work hard.

Portrait with two Pupils 

By Adélaïde Labille-Guiard - This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38344581


Adélaïde Labille-Guiard managed to survive and thrive through the French Revolution; she even painted portraits of Revolutionists. However, despite all her hard work and contributions to art, things took a turn for the worse in 1793 when accusations and allegations from men caused the Academie Royale to ban women altogether. They concluded that a woman’s main priorities should be being a mother and a wife, that women should not concentrate on the arts but instead inspire their husbands and children to serve the nation. 

War also broke out in Europe at this time and Adelaide's life was in serious danger. She had to flee and only came back to France in 1795, where she lived on the state pension and painted portraits until her death in 1803. 

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