Adelaide Labille-Guiard was first trained as a miniaturist, and went on to study pastels and portraiture under the artist Maurice-Quentin de la Tour. In 1783 she was invited into the Academie Royale, which was a rarity for women of her era. Adelaide was an extremely talented and dedicated teacher. Her portraits were sophisticated in their subtle color and perception. They gained her respect and patronage from the court and fellow artists and she was also named official painter to the daughters of Louis XV. During the French Revolution she was forced to destroy one of her largest paintings. She never regained the strength to create another monumental masterpiece due to her bad health.


Adelaide Labille-Guiard was born in Paris, on April 11th, 1749. Her father was a Parisian clothes salesman. When Adelaide was a young teen she trained as a miniaturist under the artist Francois-Elie Vincent. When Adelaide was 20 she married a financial clerk named Louis-Nicolas Guiard. In 1779 Adelaide was granted a legal separation from her estranged husband.

One of her earliest pieces was a self-portrait done as a miniature, in 1774 this self-portrait was displayed at the Academie Saint-Luc.

When Adelaide was not accepted into the Academy de St Luc, Adelaide joined the Academy Royale. In that era artists had no museum to exhibit their artworks. This changed when the establishment of the Salon de la Correspondance happened in 1781. Adelaide would exhibit a series of portraits that were done with pastels. Typical subjects would include many of the leading members of the Academy Royale, such as Joseph-Marie Vien, who Adelaide requested to be a subject of her paintings.  This would in turn help Adelaide gain more professional connections and helped to display Adelaide's talent.

In 1783 Adelaide owned her own studio and began teaching several women pupils. She also was granted full membership into the Academy Royale, on the same day as Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun was granted admission. Adelaide and Elisabeth were said to have been competitors in the art world. However, this turned out to be a rumor created by the male artists of the academy, who feared that Adelaide and Elisabeth would gain more recognition for their works.

Adelaide would submit 2 of her works as reception pieces. The first was a portrait she painted of Augustin Pajou, and the second was an oil painting of Gois who was a sculptor. These reception pieces were basically audition pieces to display her talents.

She would have many art exhibits from 1783 to the early 1800s, each one more successful than the earlier exhibitions.

Adelaide painted many portraits of aristocrats including people such as Etienne-François, Duc de Choiseul who was the Minister of Marine.

 In 1787 Adelaide became the official painter to Louis XVI’s many aunts; the portraits she painted of them included Madame Adelaide and Madame Victoria. In 1788, the future Louis XVIII (Comte de Provence) would commission Adelaide to paint the "Reception of a Knight of St Lazare by Monsieur, Grand Master of the Order", this was her first large-scale work. Adelaide would work on this painting for nearly three years; sadly in 1793 it was destroyed during the French Revolution, as it was deemed unacceptable. The only remnant of this work is an oil sketch that is in the Legion d'Honneur in Paris.

She dedicated her life to equal opportunities for women artists at the Academy Royale. In 1785, Adelaide began to petition for a studio in the  Palais du Louvre. In 1795, her request was granted; the officials objected to the her female pupils joining the male dominated art of the Louvre.

Adelaide was very active in changing the Academy Royale's regulations regarding women artists. In1790, she spoke to the artists of the Academy regarding more admission for women artists. Previously the memberships for women artists was limited to four openings per session.

The Revolution would cause a decrease in Adelaide being commissioned to to paint portraits of aristocrats. This did not slow Adelaide down. She would seek out commissions from the leaders of the revolution such as Alexandre de Beauharnais and Maximilien de Robespierre.

In September of 1791, Adelaide received a commission approved by the Assemblée Nationale; for a painting depicting Louis XVI receiving the new constitution. Unfortunately the King was imprisoned and subsequently executed, this obviously negated the commission.

After1792, Adelaide would divide her time between Paris and  Pontault-en-Brie, a village near Paris. Adelaide continued painting miniatures during this time.  In 1800, she married her former teacher François-André Vincent.

Adelaide did not produce as many paintings during her life that many of her contemporaries may have produced.

The manner in which Adelaide displayed the sitter in her portraits was described as candid and direct. The majority of her works consist of half-length paintings on a plain or simple background. Adelaide's pastel works were very subtle and lacking expression in the sitter, such as her painting of Joseph-Benoît Suvée.

 The portraits of the women Adelaide painted displayed such intricate details as the pattern on a piece of lace, and the details in items such as a necklace. Without overcrowding the painting this style can be seen in her "Portrait of a Woman". Her work has been described by her contemporaries as having a perfect likeness to the sitters.

In 1785 Adelaide painted one of her finer works titled "Self-portrait with Two Pupils", this painting was a full-length piece with a more formal setting. Adelaide had a unique style of using shadows to hold the viewers interest in the portrait they were viewing.

Adelaide used a more restrained and relaxed style of coloring.  She would use calmer shades of blue, grey and brown; the paintings background usually matched the color of the clothes the sitter was wearing. She blended her pastels so precisely so that the pastel would not leave heavy lines, instead it would be smoother and more evenly blended.

Adelaide would never gain the popularity that many of her contemporaries would, but she was a great artist and deserves recognition.

After the divorce laws finally changed, Adelaide was finally able to marry the artist Francois André Vincent, to whom she remained married to, until her death. Sadly, in April 1803 Adelaide passed away.

Many of her beautiful works are still on display in museums such as:

  • J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Joconde Database of French Museum Collections
  • Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.

You can view her intricately detailed and captivating work titled "Self-portrait with Two Pupils" at http://tinyurl.com/539sv


For More information on other lesser known female artists that you should read about, please check Lesser known female artists.


Sources:
http://cgfa.sunsite.dk
http://wwar.com
http://www.infoplease.com
http://www.askart.com
http://www.ncf.edu
http://womenshistory.about.com

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