Adélaïde Labille-Guiard des Vertus was a talented French miniaturist and painter. Despite the difficulties of the time, Labille-Guiard got enough recognition for her art, something very unusual for a woman.
In the eighteenth century, the number of women admitted to the prestigious French Academy of Painting and Sculpture was limited. The few accepted candidates were excluded from drawing classes, which is considered essential for the education of their male classmates.
Despite the significant limitations, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard managed to trace and decide his own path. During her life, she became not only a successful portrait artist, but also a mentor for other women artists.
From private life to the trade of a painter: Labille-Guiard
Adelaide Labille-Guiard was born in Paris, France, in 1749 and was the youngest of eight children. Her father was Claude Edme Labille and his mother, Marie Anne Labille.
In 1769, when she was only 20 years old, he married Louis Nicolas Guiard, a finance employee; however, the couple divorced in 1779 and without descent.
It is the marriage certificate that gives a lot of light on the life of the painter. The marriage contract, signed on August 25, 1769, recognizes that Labille-Guiard was a professional painter at the Saint-Luc Academy.
At the time Adelaide lived, professional women painters came from families of artists or artisans. However, Labille-Guiard was the daughter of a merchant.
Her father’s fashion store, no doubt, reinforced her interest in fabrics and textures. Despite this, this store did not provide any approach to the artistic institutions.
In order to train and develop an artistic career, she had to foster her own circle of influence. For this reason, she began by learning to paint in the traditionally female medium of miniatures and cakes.
Over time, she changed his work and went from oil pastels; from miniatures to large-scale painting. This change was the result of his training in different artist studios.
Académie de Saint-Luc, her first formal studies
After many years of research, it has been discovered that Adelaide was admitted to the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1769. Furthermore, according to records from the same Academy, it is known that she presented some of her works in cakes for admission. The referred piece of admission, a miniature, has disappeared and there is no description or trace of its existence at present.
Although Labille-Guiard became an accomplished painter of miniatures, pastels and oil paintings, very little is known about her artistic education. After marrying Louis-Nicolas Guiard in 1769, he became an apprentice with cake master Quentin de la Tour.
The Saint-Luc Academy was distinguished by the number of women it accepted: there were 130 women in 1777. Thanks to this opportunity, Labille-Guiard managed to practice the art professionally.
Labille-Guiard studied painting miniatures with the master François-Elie Vincent, a friend of the family. This opportunity was offered thanks to his works being exhibited at the Saint-Luc Academy. During this apprenticeship, she would know who her second husband would be, Vincent’s son, François-André Vincent.
Unlike other male artists of the time, Labille-Guiard did not just paint. The artist was also an experienced teacher of aspiring young artists.
She was a devoted teacher, she served as a reference for her students, but also as an advocate for her students. The most famous of her pupils was Gabrielle Capet, one of the most eminent miniature painters of her time.
Labille-Guiard: overcoming obstacles
In 1783, Adelaide was admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun, another woman artist, was admitted that same year.
Labille-Guiard received the support of some members of the Royal Family and nobles of the previous regime. In 1787, she was named official painter of the aunts of King Luis XVI, Adelaide and Victoire.
The Hall of the Academy of Saint-Luc became so successful that the Royal Academy was offended and decided to take action on the matter. The Royal Academy, with the support of the monarchy, issued a decree in March 1776 that abolished the “guilds and artisanal communities”. For this reason, the Saint-Luc Academy closed its doors in 1777. Labille-Guiard would continue to show its work in the Academy until its closure. After that, she would exhibit his work in the Correspondence Hall.
The talent of the painter quickly became noticeable. Soon, her teacher, François-André Vincent, helped her meet painters at the Royal Academy. Among these artists were Joseph-Marie Vien, Bachelier, Amie Suvée and Voiriot. With her help, she gained national recognition and was accepted as a member of the Royal Academy.
Acceptance at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture
On May 31, 1783, Labille-Guiard was accepted as a member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture of France. Three other women, including Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, were admitted as members on the same day.
The paintings by Labille-Guiard and Vigée-Le Brun have often been compared by critics. Generally, Vigée-Le Brun receives more favorable reviews.
Labille-Guiard’s first masterpiece, The Self-Portrait with Two Students, was influenced by Vigée-Le Brun’s style. However, at present, the work of Adelaide Labille-Guiard is considered of equal or greater value.
The patronage of the aunt of the King of France, Princess Marie Adélaïde, awarded Labille-Guiard a 1,000-pound government pension. In addition, she secured a contract to portray Princess Adelaide, her sister Victoire-Louise and Elizabeth, the king’s sister.
The portrait of Adelaide, exhibited in 1787, was the largest and most ambitious work by Labille-Guiard on that date. In 1788, he was commissioned by the king’s brother, the Count of Provence (later Louis XVIII of France), to be painted a portrait. This work ended up being Reception of a Knight of San Lazaro by Monsieur, Grand Master of the Order.
French political debacle
Relations with royalty made Labille-Guiard politically suspect after the French Revolution of 1789. In 1793 and 1794, many of the nobles who supported her were condemned to the guillotine.
On August 11, 1793, an order of the Directorate of the Paris Department forced Labille-Guiard to deliver portraits of the nobility to be burned at a public bonfire, including the unfinished commission of the Count of Provence.
Labille-Guiard hid from the reign of terror in a rural refuge shared with Vincent and Marie Gabrielle Capet, among others. He returned to a Paris radically altered in 1795.
In 1795, he obtained the appointment of artist in the Louvre and a new pension of 2,000 pounds. She was the first woman artist to create a workshop for herself and her students at the Louvre. She continued to exhibit portraits in the Salon until 1800.
On June 8th, 1799, she married her teacher, François-André Vincent, from this moment, she signed some of his paintings as Madame Vincent. The pastel portraits of Marie Adélaïde, Victoire-Louise and Élisabeth remained in possession of Labille-Guiard until his death. She died on April 24, 1803, after a long illness.