Labille-Guiard’s Portrait

“Hello all! I am so excited to hear your thoughts on this article. I continue to be amazed at the ways each article we read seems to interact with others. I thought this was a fun article to read and hope you all enjoyed it. Here are some of my thoughts!

1. “I must flee your eyes, I must…” (52). This focus upon the gaze is particularly interesting, especially when one considers the discussions we have had about the emasculating power of the female gaze. Do you feel that this quote is an example of this emasculation? Discuss!

2. How did ya’ll feel about the discussion surrounding the fashion plates? Did you feel that this argument was well grounded? The notable similarities between two paintings of Marie-Antoinette, particularly in the costuming, were not really discussed? Is this just an oversight? ,

3. Both of the above mentioned paintings are by Vigee- LeBrun, whose career has been, to my knowledge, heavily documented and studied, while it was noted that Labille-Guiard’s career has not been as researched. Why could this be? Could this be the reason that the connection was not heavily emphasized?

4. The portrait of Marie-Nicole was discussed as being pure because of, among other things, the presence of her father’s portrait. Can we discuss the male and particularly the father as a purifying agent in this kind of art?

5. “With the Self Portrait, Labille-Guiard opted not to avoid but rather to highlight the contradictions that riddled both her ambitions and her reception” (45). This article seems to give Labille-Guiard a lot of credit, which is refreshing and somewhat unusual in light of our other articles. Is she given too much credit? Please also discuss the above quote.

I cannot wait to see all of you on Thursday and very much look forward to reading your comments and questions!”


16 responses

  1. Hello all! (where are you all?? did I get the day wrong?)

    Great questions, Natalie. In reference to fashion in the portrait:
    I’m not too sure how convinced I was by the argument on page 51 (the first full paragraph on the first column) in which the author sort of makes it sound like Adélaïde is advertising her “wares.” I don’t know about you, but I simply thought that she was depicting the clothes of the time– “the latest styles” (51) that would be, certainly, worn by her potential clients– I was unconvinced that her “voluptuously revealed body,” “her prominently displayed breasts,” her “ample décolleté,” her “generous bosom,” and “her low-cut neckline” were painted to make her “visually enticing.” That was the style back then, n’est-ce pas? I agree it contrasts with the dresses of the other figures in the work, but I feel it was more that she was just showing all the different textures she could paint (see page 50, which discusses all the textures/objects on display in the work). All the props were there to show off her (undeniable and amazing!!) talent– to make her artistically “enticing,” I would argue. I would note also that her breast do not seem to be as “on display” as the fashion pictures (especially fig. 5–p. 53)– Adélaïde’s (at least in my opinion) are less pronounced. And I agree, I think the decollaté looks just like the one in the Marie Antoinette portraits that you posted, Natalie. In fact, I thought the portrait looked strikingly like Marie Antoinette– that is not to say that I mistook her for MA, but that I did indeed notice and recall MA’s depictions when I saw the portrait. Also, lest we forget, the “fashion periodicals” (52) came into existence because people wanted to know what Marie Antoinette herself was wearing. This tells me that people wanted to wear what she wore and would buy clothes similar to hers. So why wouldn’t Adélaïde show off that she could paint the most desirable fashions du jour? Seems like a definite oversight to me.

    (Side note, is it just me, or did the author spend just a little too much time talking about her breasts in that one paragraph? Je pense que oui.)

    Other than that small section, I think the discussion of the fashion plates was interesting. I could see that as being the prototype. I like the idea that it demonstrated that she was not only skilled, but also distancing herself from the academic norms (51). It makes her seems quite modern and fresh– two things that I (and many others) would never really associate with academic painting. So deviant!

    I don’t think she was given too much credit in the article, did you all? I agree, it is so nice to have an article that sheds light and highlights the talent of such an interesting and understudied(!!!!) artist.

    I hope to hear from you all!! I look forward to talking about this article. Lovely choice, Dr. Sadler! 🙂


    • I too thought that the discussion about the fashion plates was interesting, and it was kind of a “secret handshake” in a sense between women. It was something that men may not have understood an allusion too and would have, as you said, distanced herself from the academic norms!

  2. Oh also, about your third question, Natalie:

    I think Vigee- LeBrun’s career is so heavily documented and so throughly studied is because of her connection with Marie Antoinette. I mean, who could ask for a more prominent client?! Plus, she also had a personal relationship with MA– they were great friends and MA really valued her.

    Since there is such a cult surrounding Marie Antoinette, I think that anyone she ever spoke to/met was, is, and will forever be studied. I mean, there were a million hairdressers in the 18th century, but the only one we really remember (at least to my knowledge, I’d have to check with Madame K) was Leonard– MA’s personal hair “artist.”

    I think that might explain why there seems to be a lot less written about Adélaïde. In fact, I am sorry to say, I didnt know her work before this article. I am really happy I know about her now! What a talent!

  3. Ok I just checked– MA had three hair stylists : Frederic, Larseueur, and Léonard. Monsieur Léonard was her favorite though– he did her hair more often than the others, apparently. (Who can’t relate to that, by the way? Makes MA so relatable. I completely understand, I have had the same hairdresser since I was 13. I love her, she understands my hair!)

  4. “Labille-Guiard opted not to avoid but rather to
    highlight the contradictions that riddled both her ambitions
    and her reception.”(45) I really like this sentence and think is is a really large part of the argument within this article. There are a lot of points where her self portrait really made spectators think twice about her art and how she should be perceived.

    female artists were threatening to the academy officials. But she turned the bad into good which ultimately lifted her status in the art world. Very prestigious and courageous of her!

    She is holding back the subject of her painting in the self portrait giving a mystery to the painting as well as inviting us in, this is just beautiful, I love being invited in!!!

    The author then goes on to talk about fashion and I find something interesting about this passage which is when she mentions that “fashion was increasingly understood to be an acceptable arena for female display, intimately linked to a women’s desire to appeal to men” (51). I thought that this was very subjective and make the Self portrait less about the artist and promoting her skills but making is into some sort of pleasure seeking devise for men to gaze upon. Maybe I just need some clarification in class…
    Then the author goes on saying that she can also be associated with masculinity and I think that this I would agree with more, if masculinity is associated with doing what one pleases “unmasked.” She was definitely doing something for herself that would not make her a typical woman who stays out of the spotlight.
    This was a very interesting article and, yes, was a little more generous with praise to a woman artist that other articles we have read for class. I am excited to discuss!!

    • This article is very different from what we normally read and does seem to take on a new introspective about the way we automatically categorize work by female artists. Like the quote on page 45 on how Labille-Guiard painting(s) is/are usually criticized on the basis on stereotypical gender rhetoric and how it contributes to mostly the overall development and impressions of upcoming artwork by women and not simply focused on the quality and purpose of the Self Portraits itself only shows how far along the range of criticism has expanded. To simply put it, “a one track mind”.
      I was impressed by the authors exploration of that as well as some of the highly unlikely techniques and research basis to further her understanding on the influences on art by women in the their respective time period and culture.
      I agree about the statement on how women used fashion in their portraits as probably a pleasure seeking technique to gain more reverence to male patrons and wonder myself if the sole purpose that women like Labille-Guiard had work so hard to establish is tarnished due to the superficiality associated with their sex in their work.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this article because scholarship on 18th century artists commonly focuses on men. It is always refreshing when we are given a new perspective (specifically about woman!). I found the discussion of Labille-Guiard depicting herself in the most desirable fashions of the day in order to advertise not only her painting abilities but also her understanding of style to be brilliant. We are commonly talking about how artist’s show off in self portraits by painting a variety of textures and I believe Labille-Guiard takes this one step further by targeting female patrons through her choice in dress. Particularly the detail of the artist flipping her “powder blue overskirt to showcase a white lining within” (51) is evidence that the artist was rendering her self-portrait as an advertisement. However the more sexualized appearance of Labille-Guiard’s dress could be seen to entice male patrons as well.

  6. Exactly! And her ability to capture the different textures of the dress, the hat, the palette, etc. reminds one of the paragone debate and the powers of painting to compete with sculpture to capture the verisimilitude of objects!
    Still, the fact that she had to protest so much in paint is infuriating from a feminist standpoint!

  7. I loved that this article did such an intense study of this particular piece, highlighting so many aspects of the historical context that Labille-Guiard could be referencing in her work. I also especially liked the discussion near the end looking at Antoine Vestier’s portrait of his daughter, and of Labille-Guiard’s later portrait of Madame Adelaide as comparisons and contrasts to particular features of her self-portrait. As to question 4 above, about the idea of the male and particularly the father as a purifying agent in this kind of art, I found it interesting that both Vestier’s and Labille-Guiard’s paintings included a reference to a father, but in many ways they have somewhat different purposes. Labille-Guiard’s inclusion of the bust of her father connects her to that family lineage, and also shows her skill as a painter who can include sculpture in her art, and one of the reasons for including this particular bust is that it was on display at the salon at the same time that her portrait was displayed. Vestier’s inclusion of the father is more about his personal authority in the image. The audience views the scene in the portrait as Vestier, as his daughter painting a portrait of him simultaneously as he paints her portrait creates a dialogue that places the viewer in his role, and creates a heavily domestic scene where she is not allowed to be viewed in a non-virtuous way. Labille-Guiard’s portrait of Madame Adelaide also includes references to the father, but in a different way too, as it is royal imagery, and references the devotion of the daughters to the dying King.
    What are y’alls thoughts on the discussion of women displaying their art at the Place Dauphine because it was difficult for them to be included in the Royal Academy, and then being vilified by a “cultural critic” for it, and also the dual symbolism of the Vestral Virgin statue in the background of Labille-Guiard’s self-portrait? I did not know about that, and I found it to be a surprising but interesting potential idea that was brought up by the author.

  8. I am so glad you all liked this article—I think it is example of what a close reading of a painting may yield. The plight of exhibiting their works in the Place Dauphine and being vilified just prompted me to write in the margin “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Your final query is intriguing—what do others think? Play among yourselves!

  9. 3) I feel as if the discussion surround the fashion plates is valuable to the argument. When those two works of art are place side by side, you cannot help to notice how similar they are not only by pose, but also by what they are wearing. I personally liked this discussion because it brought in the idea of a woman wearing a costume. In many of the early portraiture we have studied, we describe many of the sitters wearing costume. In this case, they are wearing clothing of their time period. I liked the comparison that the author made about the subjects being like the mannequins in a store front window. By having the subject dressed like this, it emphases the feminine fashion sense. I think that the author not comparing it may be an oversight. It could also be because comparing Labille-Guiard to Vigeee-LeBrun would take the focus away from the original piece the article was speaking about.

    4) Compared to Vigee- LeBrun, Labille-Guiard’s career has not been as researched. I think that this is primarily due to their relationship to powerful figures. Although Labille-Guiard was well known, Vigee-LeBrun has ties to Marie Antoinette which is one of the most famous figures. Not only historically but fashion wise and her portrayal in works of art. The most well-known paintings of Marie Antoinette are by Vigee-LeBrun. I think that this is a primary reason why Vigee-LeBrun is so famous. It is due to her relation to Marie Antoinette. She is known today for the paintings that she has done portraying Marie Antoinette. This is different compared to Labille-Guiard. Although she did come from a well-known family, she is not related to an individual who has always been famous.

  10. As I mentioned in Monday’s class, this is my favorite reading so far. While reading this text I scribbled notes furiously. And furiously is exactly the right word. Women who broke away from the convention of the time were questioned about their morals and ethics. On page 47 the author states that Labille-Guiard’s morals were thoroughly denigrated and someone wrote that she had two thousand lovers. Wow. She must have posed quite a threat! I also thought it was fascinating that there were tabloids (page 47) that were circulated to spread rumors. The National Enquirer of the 18th century??? At the top of page 49 the author says that Salon pamphleteers reserved their most prominent pages for those who “transgressed the rules of the milieu.” How fascinating that rule breakers were headlined! What does this say about the culture of this period?

    Later on page 49 the author discusses the fact that Labille-Guiard essentially went “all in” with her paintings. The way I see it – the artist had nothing to lose. She had no money, her reputation was tarnished. She had to put everything into this one painting and cover all the bases – it’s a history painting, it’s a self portrait, it’s a group portrait, it’s alluring, it’s mysterious, it’s narrative, it’s fashionable, it’s scandalous, and then there are the amazing textures, contrapposto and exquisite light/shadows. Holy cow! Oh and then she refused to sell it! What? I’m completely in awe.

    Of course, my feminist fires were completely lit up on page 55. The last few paragraphs really riled me up. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I wasn’t around in the 1780s 🙂

  11. I really enjoyed this article! It was interesting to read about how Labille-Guiard was able to promote herself by “courting mild controversy” as well as how she protected her reputation after the negative (although not surprising) reception Self-Portrait received due to Labille-Guiard’s gender rather than her talent as an artist.
    I do not think Labille-Guiard was given too much credit; I think Auricchio makes a strong case for her as a “go-getter”, both in her response to libel and in her actual paintings. Knowing that controversy could generate interest in her work, Labille-Guiard embraces the topics that make her noteworthy. In Self Portrait, she portrays herself with authority as an artist; like other self-portraits we have discussed in class, Labille-Guiard holds an easel and brushes, and is dresses in the fashion of her time satisfying her status as a respectable woman. The contradiction in this piece is found in Labille-Guiard’s lack of commissions suggesting that she is not a “real” artists. She addresses this by portraying herself as an authoritative artist though the use of tropes of an artist as well as layering the importance of the painting through status (i.e. as a “historiated portrait”).
    One thing I find interesting about this painting, in addition to the two spectators, is that the canvas faces away from the viewer. Unlike the other pieces we have discussed, in which authority is gained in part by showcasing an artist’s own work in addition to their likeness, Labille-Guiard boldly conceals her painting. This intentional choice to leave the viewer to ponder what the canvas might show, gains authority because of its assertion that no further proof of authority is required.

  12. What a wonderful observation, Kathryn—-reminds me of a poem I loved when I was younger about how people could see and judge everything about me, but they could not see the soles of my feet! By concealing the subject of her canvas, doesn’t she have the last word?

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