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Portrait of Marie-Gabrielle Capet, 1798. by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803).
Adelaide Labille-Guiard was the great rival of Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, but without family or artistic connections. Her skills were developed over a period of years, and she only began to exhibit her works in her late thirties. She first learned the art of miniature painting, the traditional art form in which women not only participated but dominated.
In the 1780s, she was admitted to the Royal Academy, and she attracted a number of prominent clients, including King Louis XVI’s sisters. Her exhibitions were popular, but she never quite equalled the fame of Vigée-Lebrun. Their rivalry was part of the Parisian artistic scene before the Revolution. Frequently, their pictures were hung side by side, inviting comparisons.
Unlike Vigee-Lebrun, Labille-Guiard was a supporter of reform, and painted a number of figures who had criticized the court and the crown. Subsequently she stayed in France during the Revolution. In 1791, she exhibited fourteen portraits of the political elite including Robespierre and Talleyrand. She used the Revolution to further the cause of women artists, and in 1790 she addressed the Academy on lifting the quota for women in that institution. The motion was opposed by David and failed.. Nevertheless, her tenacity during the Revolution gained her many commissions. The passing of the first divorce laws permitted her finally to marry her partner of many years. She died in Paris three years later, in 1803
This post doesn’t mention that she not only attracted the sisters of Louis XVI as one-time clients - she was the First Painter of the Mesdames! That’s very official. She was one of only four female Académicians admitted at once, along with Vigée-Lebrun, and they were both extremely popular and successful. We’ve all but forgotten about Labille-Guiard in favor of Vigée-Lebrun now, but it wasn’t the case then.
After all, Labille-Guiard was the artist chosen by the Académie to paint Louis XVI before his execution. One other artist was also chosen to depict the king. And his name? Jacques Louis-David. If this female artist was deemed just as worthy to paint a portrait of the king as David, she enjoyed a great amount of prestige and fame at one point in her life. (Note: neither of the portraits were completed.)
And as a side note, I know the date “1798” is all over the internet connected to this portrait of Labille-Guiard’s student, but I really think it must be 1789.. because 1798’s fashions looked like this!
EDIT: the new tumblr set-up 100% sucks, so I have to link to the fashion plate. http://pinterest.com/pin/236790892879676980/