Saturday, January 09, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #16 - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Mademoiselle Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818)...

Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Mademoiselle Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Mademoiselle Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788), 1785, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Oil on canvas, 83 x 59 1/2 in. (210.8 x 151.1 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the business of art, it is refreshing to find a woman who has made her mark in a male dominated world. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was able to break into the profession during pre-revolutionary France. Her work focused on portraiture and she was quite successful. Portraiture and still-life painting were deemed appropriate for female artists. Grand history paintings included the male figure and it was culturally unacceptable for women to study the male nude. She married in 1769 but was divorced by 1776 (no doubt also frowned on by society!). Despite these societal obstacles, Labille-Guiard was able to support herself as a teacher and portrait painter.

She set up her studio in the early 1780s and by 1783 had eight female students. She painted members of the aristocracy and the royal court as well as male members of the Royal Academy. She was honored by being admitted to the Royal Academy as a member, but she was not allowed to study or teach at the institution. Just because she was accepted doesn't mean all of the male members were happy about it. She must have had good self-esteem and perseverance, because she was constantly gossiped about and even accused of not painting her work herself!

You can see her self-confidence in this self-portrait; she is in the center of the painting, seated in her studio at work on a large canvas. Her students look on with appreciation and excitement. By dressing in an elaborate and expensive gown, Labille-Guiard represents herself as a painter and a woman of society. Her posture emphasizes her shapely figure and her gown is arranged to be shown at its best advantage. Her studio is also portrayed to be large and luxurious - it is appointed with fine furniture as well as sculptures letting the viewer know that she was financially well off.

We see the back of the canvas, but not what she is painting. Art historians have three ideas about what that painting could be of: (1) it could be the self-portrait that we are looking at, (2) it could be a portrait of one or both of her students, or (3) or there could be another subject outside the scene we see who is having their portrait made. By including other people in her self-portrait, she demonstrates her ability to portray groups of people in one painting. This opened her commissions to patrons who might want to have family groupings immortalized. She was a clever entrepeneur: she used the painting as an advertising tool so the viewer of this painting could imagine themselves as her subject. Her direct gaze at the viewer is enticing and inviting: why not let me paint YOUR portrait!


R A and L D said...

Ms. Miller- thank you for your insights and commentary on the Aca Dec art works. I am assisting our Aca Dec team and have suggested your blog to them. As an Art History teacher I have been wanting to supplement my class through my blog, but just haven't taken the time. Do you find it is beneficial to your students? Thanks again-

JULIETA VIOLETA DECIUC 18/11/2009 said...

estoi impresionada con algunas de sus fotografias. saludos