Royalists to Romantics: Spotlight on Constance Marie Charpentier

In Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, 77 works by 35 artists display the talents of French Revolution-era women artists. Their paintings are windows into their careers and the singular challenges of their time. The catalogue that NMWA has published to illustrate Royalists to Romantics includes essays as well as individual artist biographies that give insight into the lives of women artists working in France between 1750 and 1848. This excerpt explores the life of one the show’s featured artists, Constance Marie Charpentier. For additional information, visit www.nmwa.org, or purchase the catalogue from the Museum Shop by calling 877-226-5294.

Constance Marie Charpentier, Melancholy, 1801. Oil on canvas. Musée de Picardie, Amiens

Constance Marie Charpentier (1767–1849), Melancholy, 1801. Oil on canvas. Musée de Picardie, Amiens

Constance Marie Charpentier exhibited at least thirty works at the Paris Salons from 1795 to 1819, yet she is remembered almost exclusively as the painter of Melancholy (1801), included in the present exhibition.¹ Sound information about her training is scant; lists of her teachers traditionally include the history painters Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) and Francois Gerard (1770–1837), as well as Louis Lafitte (1770–1828), who is best known for his decorative work, and the painter and engraver Pierre Bouillon (1776–1831).² A final name is variously given as that of the printmaker Johan-Georg Wille (1715–1808) or his son, the painter and sculptor Pierre-Alexandre Wille (1748–1821), or an artist identified only as Wilk.

Charpentier’s family history is better documented. In the year of her birth, her father, a Parisian merchant named Pierre-Alexandre- Hyacinthe Blondelu, was taken to court by the apothecaries’ guild for abrogating its privilege to formulate and sell medication.³ In 1793 the artist married Victor-Francois Charpentier, a government employee who worked for the prefecture of Paris and department of the Seine. Her husband’s brother-in-law, the Revolution’s fiery orator Georges Danton (1759–1794), sat for a portrait by Charpentier.

Charpentier met with considerable success at the Salons, where she exhibited primarily portraits and domestic genre scenes. In 1798 her pendant paintings Widow of a Day and Widow of a Year earned a prix d’encouragement, a commission for a painting to be purchased by the state for 1,500 francs. Melancholy, Charpentier’s only known history painting, fulfilled this commission, and its appearance at the 1801 Salon prompted an admiring poet to declare: “this painting lets us discover / Charm in melancholy.”⁴ Charpentier went on to win a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1814, and a silver medal at the 1821 Salon exhibition atDouai, in northern France. Although she ceased exhibiting after 1821, she was still teaching ten years later when a dictionary of artists announced that she “receives, three times a week, young women who wish to follow her advice on drawing and painting” at her residence on the rue du Pot de fer Saint-Sulpice (part of the modern-day rue Bonaparte, in the sixth arrondissement of Paris).⁵

Notes

1. Thirty is the number given by Valerie Mainz, “Charpentier, Constance,” in Dictionary of Women Artists, ed. Delia Gaze (London, 1997), vol. 1, pp. 381 – 82.

2. See, for instance, E. Benezit, Dictionary of Artists (Paris, 2006), vol. 3, p. 807; French Painting, 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution, exh. cat. (Detroit, 1975), pp. 345–47; Charles Gabet, Dictionnaire des artistes de l’école française, au xixE siècle (Paris, 1831), pp. 132 – 33; Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists, 1550–1950, exh. cat. (New York, 1976), p. 207; Jean-Francois Heim, Claire Beraud, and Philippe Heim, Les salons de peinture de la Révolution française, 1789–1799 (Paris, 1989), p. 163; and Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Women Artists inParis, 1791–1814” (PhD diss., New York University, 1996), pp. 136–37. Except where noted, this biography is based on Oppenheimer’s work.

3. Oppenheimer (“Women Artists,” p. 136) gives her parents’ names. The lawsuit is documented in “Proces des maitres et gardes apothicaires contre Pierre Alexandre Hyacinthe Blondelu, pour preparation et vente de drogues,” 1767–68, Archives et manuscrits de la Bibliotheque interuniversitaire de pharmacie,Paris, ae/12.

4. Arlequin chasse du muséum par un artiste: Critique en prose et en vaudeville (Paris, [1801]), as translated and quoted in Matthieu Pinette, From the Sun King to the Royal Twilight: Painting in Eighteenth-Century France from the Musée de Picardie, Amiens, exh. cat. (New York, 2000), p. 177. Quoted in the original French, with citation, in Matthieu Pinette, Peintures françaises des xvii E et xviii E siècles des musées d’Amiens (Paris, 2006), pp. 252–53: “Et ce tableau nous fait trouver / Du charme a la melancolie.”

5. Gabet, Dictionnaire, pp. 132–33. Quotation from p. 133: “Mme Charpentier recoit, trois fois par semaines [sic], les jeunes personnes qui desirent suivre ses conseils pour le dessin et la peinture.”

Great Washington Museums: Spotlight on the National Building Museum

Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists is a NMWA-organized collaborative city-wide project highlighting works by women artists. During 2012, institutions throughout the Washington area are featuring an array of signature works by women artists that have enriched their distinguished collections. This landmark program, in conjunction with NMWA’s 25th anniversary celebration, continues NMWA’s dedication to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. This excerpt explores one of the National Building Museum’s great works by women on view, Chloethiel Woodard Smith & Associated Architects’ Model for the Proposed Washington Channel Bridge. Visit www.nmwa.org and download the pdf map to begin your journey! 

Chloethiel Woodard Smith & Associated Architects, Model, Proposed Washington Channel Bridge, 1966; Plastic, cardboard, paper, wood, and paint; 85 x 41 ½ x 12 in.; National Building Museum, Gift of the American Architectural Foundation, 2009

Chloethiel Woodard Smith & Associated Architects, Model, Proposed Washington Channel Bridge, 1966; Plastic, cardboard, paper, wood, and paint; 85 x 41 ½ x 12 in.; National Building Museum, Gift of the American Architectural Foundation, 2009

Chloethiel Woodard Smith’s innovative proposal for the Washington Channel Bridge spanned from the Southwest waterfront to East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.  Lined with shops and restaurants, the bridge carried only pedestrians and shuttle buses.  The design was nicknamed the “Ponte Vecchio” after the famous bridge in Florence, Italy. Smith’s proposal failed to generate significant interest among potential tenants or financiers, so the bridge was never built. On display November 19, 2011–May 28, 2012 in the temporary exhibition “Unbuilt Washington.”

Royalists to Romantics: Spotlight on Césarine Henriette Flore Davin

In Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, 77 works by 35 artists display the talents of French Revolution-era women artists. Their paintings are windows into their careers and the singular challenges of their time. The catalogue that NMWA has published to illustrate Royalists to Romantics includes essays as well as individual artist biographies that give insight into the lives of women artists working in France between 1750 and 1848. This excerpt explores the life of one the show’s featured artists, Césarine Henriette Flore Davin

 

Césarine Henriette Flore Davin, Portrait of Askar-Khan, Ambassador from Persia

Césarine Henriette Flore Davin, Portrait of Askar-Khan, Ambassador from Persia, in 1808, 1808, Oil on canvas, 67 × 52. in. , Musee national des chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Césarine Davin enjoyed modest success as a painter of portraits and narrative paintings in both oils and miniatures. Having studied miniature painting with Jean-Baptiste- Jacques Augustin (1759 – 1832) and oil painting with two rival history painters, Joseph-Benoît Suvée (1743 – 1807) and Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825), she regularly exhibited in both media at the Louvre Salons from 1798 to 1822.¹ Her work garnered two awards: a second-class medal at the 1804 Salon and a gold medal at the 1814 Salon. The 1814 prize acknowledged her painting of the Death of Malek-Adhel (untraced), which must have been an exotic scene based on the popular 1805 novel Mathilde, ou Mémoires tirés de l’histoire des croisades (Mathilde, or Memoirs from the history of the Crusades) by Sophie Cottin.²

Davin, whose brother held a position in the Finance Ministry under Napoléon, also received some recognition from government authorities. In 1807 she delivered a portrait (Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon) of François-Joseph Lefebvre, Marshal of the Empire, which had been commissioned for the Gallery of Marshals at the Palais des Tuileries. In 1825 she was asked to copy a portrait of Louis xviii. The painting included in the current exhibition, the Portrait of Askar Khan, Ambassador from Persia, in 1808 (cat. 34), exhibited at the Salon of 1810, was purchased for the museum at Versailles in 1836.³

 

Davin seems to have been married for several years by the time of her first exhibition, as her 1798 Salon offerings included Maternal Tenderness, a family portrait depicting the artist with her husband and their children.4 She is known to have been a regular guest at weekly soirees held by Adélaïde-Marie- Castellas Moitte (1747 – 1807), wife of the sculptor and object designer Jean-Guillaume Moitte (1746 – 1810), and to have joined in social events at the home of her teacher David.

Musicians, too, figured among Davin’s acquaintances. Madame Moitte reports seeing the violinist Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni (1751 – 1821) perform at a soirée chez Davin. Several portraits of musicians testify to such connections, including a portrait of Bruni in the Frick Collection, New York. Formerly attributed to David, this work was firmly identified by Georges Wildenstein as one of Davin’s 1804 Salon offerings.5

Like many female artists of the time, Davin supplemented her income by teaching young women. Her school, which opened in 1805, was reportedly still operating in the year of her death some four decades later.

 

Notes

1. Davin’s biography is based on Nathalie Lemoine Bouchard, Les peintres en miniature actifs en France, 1650 – 1850 (Paris, 2008), p. 181; Amy M. Fine, “Césarine Davin-Mirvault: ‘Portrait of Bruni’ and Other Works by a Student of David,” Women’s Art Journal 4, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 1983), p. 16; Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Women Artists in Paris, 1791 – 1814” (PhD diss., New York University, 1996), pp. 155 – 57; Mary Vidal, “The ‘Other Atelier’: Jacques-Louis David’s Female Students,” in Women, Art and the Politics of Identity in Eighteenth-Century Europe, ed. Melissa Lee Hyde and Jennifer Milam (Aldershot, 2003), p. 257; and Georges Wildenstein, “Un tableau attribué à David rendu à Mme Davin-Mirvault: ‘Le portrait du violoniste Bruni’ (Frick Collection),” Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 59 (February 1962), pp. 93 – 98.

2. Émile Bellier de la Chavignerie, Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française depuis l’origine des arts du dessin jusqu’à nos jours (1882 – 85; rpr., Paris, 1997), vol. 1, p. 362, reports that the painting is untraced.

 3. Claire Constans, Musée national du château de Versailles: Les peintures, introduction by Jean-Pierre Babelon (Paris, 1995), vol. 1, p. 225.

 4. Jean-Francois Heim, Claire Béraud, and Philippe Heim, Les salons de peinture de la Révolution française, 1789 – 1799 (Paris, 1989), p. 177.

5. Wildenstein, “Tableau attribué à David.” The painting is illustrated in Fine, “Césarine Davin-Mirvault,” p. 16, fig. 1.

 

Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists: Spotlight on the Hirshhorn

Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists is a NMWA-organized collaborative city-wide project highlighting works by women artists. During 2012, institutions throughout the Washington area are featuring an array of signature works by women artists that have enriched their distinguished collections. This landmark program, in conjunction with NMWA’s 25th anniversary celebration, continues NMWA’s dedication to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. This excerpt explores one of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s signature works by a woman artist, Agnes Martin’s Garden. Visit www.nmwa.org and download the pdf map to begin your journey!  

Agnes Martin, Garden, 1964

Agnes Martin, Garden, 1964; Synthetic polymer and colored pencil on linen, 72 ½ x 72 ⅛ in.; Holenia Purchase Fund and Joseph H. Hirshhorn Fund 2001
On view through spring 2012.

Agnes Martin’s abstract paintings evoke quiet contemplation through the simplicity of their geometric order. Although not a practitioner, Martin became interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoist thought in the late 1940s and early 1950s, incorporating ideas about discipline, meditation, and unity into her work. She developed her signature compositions—subtle grids of muted colors on identical 6-x-6-foot canvas mounts—during the 1960s. In Garden, subtle tension is created by the red and green lines of the grille-like pattern. Typical of Martin’s paintings, a precisely rendered linear foreground balances a vast, delicately toned background, producing a harmonious structure and space. On view through spring 2012.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Independence Ave. & 7th St. SW, Washington DC; Website: http://hirshhorn.si.edu.

NMWA: Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists .

Royalists to Romantics: Spotlight on Rose Adélaïde Ducreux

In Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, 77 works by 35 artists display the talents of French Revolution-era women artists. Their paintings are windows into their careers and the singular challenges of their time. The catalogue that NMWA has published to illustrate Royalists to Romantics includes essays as well as individual artist biographies that give insight into the lives of women artists working in France between 1750 and 1848. This excerpt explores the life of one the show’s featured artists, Rose Adélaïde Ducreux. For additional information, visit nmwa.org, or purchase the catalogue from the Museum Shop online.

Rose Adélaïde Ducreux (1762-1802), Portrait of the Artist, ca. 1799. Oil on canvas. Musée des beaux-arts, Rouen

Rose Adélaïde Ducreux (1762-1802), Portrait of the Artist, ca. 1799. Oil on canvas. Musée des beaux-arts, Rouen

Rose Adélaïde Ducreux was the eldest of six children in the Parisian household of portraitist Joseph Ducreux (1735 – 1802) and his wife, Philippine Rose Cosse.¹ Having learned to paint in her father’s studio, Ducreux participated in her first exhibition in 1786. That January she sent a self-portrait to one of the biweekly exhibitions organized by the entrepreneur known as Pahin de la Blancherie in his commercial venue, the Salon de la Correspondance. Her father, whose difficult personality had evidently prevented him from winning admission to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, also exhibited occasionally at this alternative space.

Father and daughter made their joint debut at the Louvre Salon in 1791, when Académie membership ceased being a prerequisite for participation. Rose Ducreux displayed two paintings: a portrait of a young woman and a life-size, standing self-portrait, painted in a Neoclassical style, depicting the artist playing a harp, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.² She went on to exhibit at the Louvre in 1793, 1795, 1798, and 1799, showing at least a half dozen paintings and studies, most of which remain untraced. The self-portrait in the current exhibition is dated to around 1799 based on its furnishings and fashions: the white, unstructured, néo-grec dress, the mustard-colored cashmere shawl, and the saber-shaped chair legs all point to this period.

In 1801 Ducreux became engaged to François- Jacques Lequoy de Montgiraud (1748 – 1804), a colonial prefect sent by Napoléon to Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) to help restore order on the island, which was in the throes of revolution.³ After crossing the Atlantic, she contracted typhoid fever and died in 1802.

Notes

1. This biography is based on Joseph Baillio, “Une artiste méconnue, Rose Adélaïde Ducreux,” L’oeil 399 (October 1988), pp. 20 – 27; Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online edition, updated May 18, 2010, http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/DucreuxR.pdf; and Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Women Artists in Paris, 1791 – 1814” (PhD diss., New York University, 1996), pp. 171 – 72. On Joseph Ducreux, see Neil Jeffares, “Ducreux, Joseph,” Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online edition, updated March 23, 2011, http://www.pastellists.com/Articles/Ducreux.pdf; and Georgette Lyon, Joseph Ducreux, premier peintre de Marie-Antoinette (1735 – 1802): Sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris, 1958).

2. Jean-François Heim, Claire Béraud, and Philippe Heim, Les salons de peinture de la Révolution française, 1789 – 1799 (Paris, 1989), p. 194.

3. On Lequoy de Montgiraud in Saint-Domingue, see Jean-Marcel Champion, “30 Floréal Year x: The Restoration of Slavery by Bonaparte,” in The Abolitions of Slavery: From L. L. F. Sonthonax to Victor Schoelcher, 1793, 1794, 1848, ed. Marcel Dorigny (Paris and Oxford, 2003), p. 231.

Royalists to Romantics: Spotlight on Madeleine Françoise Basseporte

In Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, 77 works by 35 artists display the talents of French Revolution-era women artists. Their paintings are windows into their careers and the singular challenges of their time. The catalogue that NMWA has published to illustrate Royalists to Romantics includes essays as well as individual artist biographies that give insight into the lives of women artists working in France between 1750 and 1848. This excerpt explores the life of one the show’s featured artists, Madeleine Françoise Basseporte. For additional information, visit www.nmwa.org, or purchase the catalogue from the Museum Shop by calling 877-226-5294.

Madeleine Françoise Basseporte (1701-1780), Pectinidae, Patella, 1747. Red chalk on paper. Bibliothèque centrale du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris

Madeleine Françoise Basseporte (1701-1780), Pectinidae, Patella, 1747. Red chalk on paper. Bibliothèque centrale du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris

Although Madeleine Basseporte initially studied with a history painter, she became a botanical illustrator whose work stands at the intersection of art and science.¹ Her first teacher was the painter and engraver Paul-Ponce-Antoine Robert, known as Robert de Sery (1686–1733), who enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal de Rohan, the scion of an influential noble family of Breton origin. Through Robert, Basseporte was able to study the collections of old master paintings housed at Rohan’s hôtel in the Marais district of Paris.² Robert had close relationships with Basseporte and her widowed mother: he placed Basseporte at the head of a drawing school for female students, asked her to produce prints after many of his works, and entrusted both women to assist with the inventory and distribution of his possessions upon his death.

Visitors in the galleries on Royalists to Romantics Member Preview Day

Visitors in the galleries on the Member Preview Day for Royalists to Romantics

Tradition has it that Basseporte, who grew adept at the art of pastel portraiture, chose to pursue flower painting because it promised a steady income that would enable her to support her aging mother. After Robert’s death, Basseporte apprenticed herself to Claude Aubriet (1665–1742), whom she succeeded in 1741 as official painter to the Jardin du roi (the king’s botanical gardens in Paris). This post, which Basseporte held until 1780, obliged her to provide the crown with twelve paintings per year. Most of these are still held at the gardens, renamed the Jardin des plantes during the Revolution and today part of the Museum national d’histoire naturelle. Several of Basseporte’s drawings from the collection of the Jardin des plantes are on view in this exhibition. Basseporte was also called upon to travel to the royal chateaus at Versailles, Compiegne, Fontainebleau, and Bellevue to record the collections of animals and plants that Louis xv and Madame de Pompadour assembled at these properties. In addition, she taught flower painting to the daughters of Louis xv, who maintained life-long interests in both art and botany. She may also have given lessons to other women, including the future académiciennes Marie Therese Vien and Anne Vallayer-Coster, both included in the current exhibition.

During her tenure at the Jardin du roi, Basseporte interacted with many scientific and intellectual luminaries of the era. The influential Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus met Basseporte in the 1730s when she was still studying with Aubriet. The French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, kept up a decades-long correspondence with the artist. And the philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau reportedly exclaimed that “nature gives plants their existence” but “Mademoiselle Basseporte gives them their preservation.”³

Notes

1. The most thorough biography of Basseporte remains “Necrologe,” Revue universelle des arts 13 (1861), pp. 139–47. The present text also draws upon Emile Bellier de la Chavignerie, Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française depuis l’origine des arts du dessin jusqu’à nos jours: Architectes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs et lithographes (1882–85; rpr., Paris, 1997), vol. 1, p. 50, and Augustin Jal, Dictionnaire critique de biographie et d’histoire: Errata et supplément pour tous les dictionnaires historiques d’après des documents authentiques inédits (Paris, 1867), p. 124.

2. All information concerning Basseporte’s work with Robert de Sery is based on Henri Bourin, Paul-Ponce-Antoine Robert (de Séry) peintre du Cardinal de Rohan (1686–1733) (Paris, 1907).

3. “Necrologe,” p. 142. According to the author, Rousseau famously said “la nature donnait l’existence aux plantes, mais . . . mademoiselle [sic] Basseporte la leur conservait.”

From the Archives: Catharina Baart Biddle

The Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts recently accepted an archival donation from the estate of artist Catharina Baart Biddle (1912–2005). The wealth of archival material includes correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings, and many other artifacts that shed light on the life of this notable Washington arts supporter and female painter.

Catharina Baart Biddle (n.d.)

Catharina Baart Biddle (n.d.)

Born in the Netherlands, Biddle came to the U.S. at age 12 and grew up on Long Island. She had been influenced at an early age by famous Dutch artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Her work reveals their inspiration, featuring great emphasis on light, shadow, and color. After receiving an M.F.A. from The George Washington University, Biddle turned down a job offer from the school and decided to return to Europe. She spent several years traveling and painting, spending time in Greece, North Africa, and France—even learning from Picasso, Dufy, and Matisse.

Eventually missing the freedom of thought afforded by American life, Biddle returned to the U.S. at the start of World War II, where she received her second M.F.A. from American University. She went on to work in the education department at the National Gallery of Art and then taught in Washington, D.C., public schools for more than 20 years. Dedicated to her mission of furthering arts education, Biddle endowed a fund for undergraduates at American University in 2002. In 1973 she married Livingston Biddle, who drafted the legislation creating the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. While her husband was serving as the third Chairman of the NEA under President Carter, Biddle was an avid NEA volunteer.

NMWA has significant ties to the Biddle family. The Biddles were members of the NMWA Foundation Board. In 2002, Biddles helped endow a gallery at NMWA called the International Gallery. The donation was intended as a tribute to her husband and their passion for the arts.

“But every artist has a special individuality,” she says, “and the artist’s work should be evolving. To do the very best you can at a given moment, and to learn from it, that is the essence of my work.”
—Catharina Baart Biddle

The LRC has begun processing this collection, and it is available for researcher use. The archival material dates throughout the entirety of Biddle’s life, especially her earlier years. Although there is a wide range of material, a majority of the collection consists of photographs and correspondence. There are a number of travel photographs in particular, including many from Poland, as well as letters to loved ones such as her sister, Mary, and Livingston Biddle. The collection provides fascinating insight into the life of this extraordinary woman.

—Eva Richardson is a former Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.