French “Renaissance” Women of the Revolutionary and Romantic Eras
National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, is hosting a ground-breaking exhibition, From Royalists to Romantics: Woman artists from the Louvre, Versailles and other French National Collections. The exhibition celebrates the 25th anniversary of NMWA and will continue to be on view until July 29, 2012. It features 35 woman artists who worked between 1750 and 1850.
between. They reveal themselves as extraordinary talents, able to overcome so many odds. Many of those who painted and were the subject of portraits reveal themselves as the Renaissance woman of their days. The cover of the catalogue has an alluring portrait of Madame Juliette Récamier, by Eulalie Morin.
Madame Récamier, by Eulalie Morin, late 18th century, is on the cover of the NMWA ground-breaking exhibition. Morin’s Mme Récamier wears a grecian dress and standing in front of an olive tree. Morin used an encaustic technique
Madame Récamier was an extraordinary woman known for holding salons in Paris, hosting notable literary and political figures. She was brilliant, beautiful, charming, witty and politically involved. In time, she was critical of Napoleon, and Madame Récamier went in exile to Italy, but returned to France later. Morin’s portrait dates to the last quarter of the 18th century, before the more famous portraits of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David and Francois Gérard. Morin captured the personality of this charming and clever figure and set her in front of a distant landscape. Her skin is soft and smooth, and the flesh tones contrast nicely with the bright white headband and grecian dress. She stands in front of an olive tree, another tribute to Greece and her interest in the ideals of the classical world. The composition is unified with curves of the face, arm, tree and headband to pull it together and focus on the face. Morin’s Madame Récamier is intimate and alluring. Perhaps as a result of the NMWA exhibition, Morin’s painting will become the iconic image of Madame Recamier, and Eulalie Morin will become better known. (A specific type of couch, a récamier, takes its name from David’s portrait of her.) It’s interesting that Morin primarily painted miniatures, the tiny portraits which went out of vogue with the advent of photography.
Neoclassical style and the simplicity of white, grecian dress represented sympathy for Republican ideas. A self-portrait of Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux in NMWA’s exhibition shows her bending over a painting, demonstrating her art. However, she shined not only as a painter, but as a musician and composer. Her style compares well next to the work of Jacques-Louis David, most revered painter of the age, especially when we see the texture and shine of an exquisite dresses she painted.
The current exhibition only features paintings from French museums, but there is a also a full-length self-portrait by Ducreux in the Metropolitan Museum, where she plays the harp. Ducruex was also a musician and composer; this painting, below, was accepted in the Salon of 1791.
Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun was a prodigy who opened her own painting studio at age 15, supporting her mother and brother. She soon became a favorite of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Marriage and motherhood did not interfere with her career, and she is known for having painted several portraits of herself in affectionate, loving poses with Julie, her daughter.
Vigée-LeBrun did not support the Revolution and left France, only to gain an international reputation as a portrait painter, particularly amongst the nobility of Austria, Russia and Poland. (A recent blog on her is found here.)
Anne Vallayer-Coster was a marvelous still life painter who was voted into Royal Academy in 1770. A favorite of Marie-Antoinette, she seems to have fallen out of favor after the Revolution. Vallayer-Coster, Vigée-LeBrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, were elected into the exclusive French Academy and achieved fame in their day, but there were many other artists of extraordinary talent whom we now can see and recognize in a new light. Many are portrait painters and some are history painters, the latter considered the highest type of art in its time. A few of them painted genre scenes, still lives or landscapes.
The exhibition’s 77 paintings, prints and sculpture mainly come before the invention of photography and do not show its influence. By 1850 the style of Realism had entered the art scene, but the exhibition does not cover this style in which new, younger artists such as Rosa Bonheur were painting. A Legion d’Honneur recipient, Bonheur completed in 1855 her famous The Horse Fair, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Joseph Vernet was a well-known marine painter who frequently portrayed shipwrecks and other disasters.
These works are on loan from France until July 29, 2012, after which they will travel to Sweden.