Royalists to Romantics: Spotlight on Marie Guilhelmine Benoist

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 the show’s featured artists, Marie Guilhelmine Benoist. For additional information, visit www.nmwa.org, or purchase the catalogue from the Museum Shop by calling 877-226-5294.

Marie Guilhelmine Benoist, The Consultation, or The Advice of the Fortune-Teller, 1812

Marie Guilhelmine Benoist, The Consultation, or The Advice of the Fortune-Teller, 1812; Oil on canvas, 76 7/8 × 56 3/4 in.; Musée de la ville, Saintes

The career of Marie Guilhelmine Benoist (Paris, 1768–Paris, 1826) was profoundly entwined with the politics of the Revolutionary era. In the 1780s Benoist and her sister, Marie-Élisabeth Leroulx de la Ville (1770–1842), studied with Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun.¹ A controversy arose in July 1787, when the young women’s presence in David’s Louvre studio troubled the comte d’Angiviller, the director of the Batîments du roi (the royal arts administration), who objected to the mingling of the sexes in a royal palace.² Benoist’s romantic attachment to the poet Charles-Albert Demoustier (1760–1801) also attracted attention in these years; Demoustier’s 1786 Lettres à Émilie sur la mythologie (Letters to Émilie on [Greek] mythology) were reportedly inspired by her.

Barred from the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, which reached its quota of four female members in 1783, Benoist exhibited at the annual outdoor exhibitions held at the place Dauphine, on the Île de la Cité, from 1784 to 1789. There she displayed pastel studies as well as self-portraits, portraits, and sentimental genre scenes painted in oil. In 1791 she took advantage of the Salon’s open exhibition policy, exhibiting three narrative paintings in the Louvre that year.

Royalist allegiances generated problems, however. Benoist’s father, René Leroulx-Delaville, served in Louis XVI’s administration and in 1793 the artist married Pierre-Vincent Benoist, who fled France later that year to avoid arrest; he was accused, in a warrant signed by Jacques-Louis David, of plotting to rescue Marie-Antoinette from prison. In 1795, with hostilities ended, Madame Benoist was reunited with her husband, exhibited at the Salon (after a hiatus), received a financial award from the government, and was granted coveted lodgings in the Louvre.

Chief Curator Jordana Pomeroy discusses Benoist's Portrait of Napoleon

Chief Curator Jordana Pomeroy discusses Benoist's Portrait of Napoleon

The nineteenth century brought still greater successes. Benoist’s best-known work, the Portrait of a Negress (Musée du Louvre, Paris),³ caused a stir at the 1800 Salon. Following Napoléon’s coup d’état of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799), Monsieur Benoist was appointed to the Ministry of the Interior, and Madame joined the cadre of artists disseminating images of Napoléon and the imperial family throughout the First Empire. Several of these state portraits appeared at Salons, where they attracted additional commissions. Benoist earned a second-class medal at the 1804 Salon and opened a school for girls in the same year. She turned increasingly to genre painting at this time, creating works like Reading from the Bible (1810) and The Consultation, or The Fortune-Teller (1812), both seen in this exhibition.

In 1815 the restored Bourbon monarchy appointed Monsieur Benoist to the Council of State. In the interest of decorum, Marie Guilhelmine Benoist abruptly ended her career. She never exhibited again.

1. The seminal source on Benoist is Marie-Juliette Ballot, Une élève de David, la comtesse Benoist, l’Émilie de Demoustier, 1768-1826 (Paris, 1914). The present account is also indebted to Vivian P. Cameron, “Benoist, Mme,” in Dictionary of Women Artists, ed. Delia Gaze (London, 1997), vol. 1, pp. 244-47; Gen Doy, Women and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Centry France, 1800-1852 (London and New York, 1998) pp. 34-36; Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists, 1550-1950, exh. Cat. (New York, 1976), pp. 209-10; Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Three Newly Identified Paintings by Marie-Guillemine Benoist,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 31 (1996), pp. 143-50; and Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Women Artists in Paris, 1791-1814” (PhD diss., New York University, 1996), pp. 110-14.

2. See Mary Vidal, “The ‘Other Atelier’: Jacques-Louis David’s Female Students,” in Women, Art and the Politics of Identity, ed. Melissa Lee Hyde and Jennifer Milam (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 237-52. Portions of the relevant correspondence are published in J.J. Guiffrey, “Écoles de demoiselles dans les ateliers de David et de Suvée au Louvre,” in Nouvelles archives de l’art français (Paris, 1874-75), pp. 394-401.

3. Benoist’s Portrait of a Negress is reproduced in Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (New York, 2001), p. 299.

Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections

Opening next Friday, February 24, Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections features 77 paintings, prints, and sculptural works from 1750 to 1850—many of which have never been seen outside of France. In keeping with NMWA’s mission to rediscover and celebrate women artists of the past and demonstrate their continued relevance, the museum’s curators spent months scouring the collections of dozens of French museums and libraries to cull rarely-seen works by women artists. Royalists to Romantics showcases these exceptional works and reveals how the tumultuous period—which saw the flowering of the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the terrors of the French revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the restoration of the monarchy—affected the lives and careers of women artists. The exhibition will be on view through July 29, 2012.

Image of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Portrait of a Woman, 1787

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Portrait of a Woman, 1787; Oil on canvas, 39 ⅞ x 32 in.; Musée des beaux-arts, Quimper

Royalists to Romantics is the first exhibition to focus on women artists of this time period in France and demonstrate how they navigated a highly gendered world that presented different opportunities for education and patronage than for their male counterparts,” said NMWA Chief Curator Dr. Jordana Pomeroy. “The exhibition and catalogue for Royalists to Romantics will help to banish the obscurity that has veiled the legacy of many 18th-century French women artists.”

Featuring 35 artists, including Marguerite Gérard, Antoine Cecile Haudebourt-Lescot, Adélaïde Labille-Guillard, Sophie Rude, Anne Vallayer-Coster, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, the exhibition explores the political and social dynamics that shaped their world and influenced their work. Some of these artists flourished with support of such aristocratic patrons as Marie Antoinette, who not only appointed her favorite female artists Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and Anne Vallayer-Coster to court, but advocated their acceptance into the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture—an official seal of approval that could establish an artist’s career. The political upheavals of the French Revolution and the following decades brought a new set of challenges for women artists.

Image of Adrienne Marie Louise Grandpierre-Deverzy, The Studio of Abel de Pujol, 1822

Adrienne Marie Louise Grandpierre-Deverzy, The Studio of Abel de Pujol, 1822; Oil on canvas, 37 7/8 x 50 7/8 in.; Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

“In celebration of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ 25th anniversary, we are delighted to present Royalists to Romantics, an exhibition dedicated to a group of extraordinary 18th-century women artists that inspired our founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay,” said NMWA Alice West Director, Dr. Susan Fisher Sterling. “Like other important historical surveys NMWA has organized, including An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum and Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque, bringing this great art to the U.S. from the Louvre, Versailles and other French national collections demonstrates our continued commitment to new scholarship about exceptional women artists over the centuries.”

Image of Antoine Cecile Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot, The Capture of Thionville, 1837

Antoine Cecile Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot, The Capture of Thionville, 1837; Oil on canvas, 34 ¼ x 46 in.; Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon; Image: Franck Raux; Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

NMWA members are invited to a special Member Preview Day, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. on Thursday, February 23, 2012, featuring:

  • A noon lecture by New School Professor Laura Auricchio: “Royalists to Revolutionaries: Women Artists in the French Revolution”
  • Staff-led gallery tours throughout the day
  • An opportunity to see NMWA’s artist-in-residence and womenswear designer Celia Reyer begin work on the Brunswick traveling coat, inspired by and created through historically accurate production processes, that will bring to life the fashions in the portraiture on view.

For information about the day, or about becoming a NMWA member, visit www.nmwa.org or call toll-free 866-875-4627.

The 135-page, fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue has been published by Scala Publishers, with essays by Pomeroy and other noted scholars in the field. (To purchase the catalogue, call the Museum Shop toll-free at 877-226-5294. $45/Member $40.50; Item #3500.)

 

Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections has been organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., with logistical support from sVo Art, Versailles.

The exhibition is made possible by the Annenberg Foundation, the Florence Gould Foundation, Hermès, Teresa L. and Joe R. Long, and Jacqueline Badger Mars, with additional funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, an Anonymous Donor, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Further support is provided by Air France and Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square.

Supporting Women Artisans Around the World

Rebecca Lolosoli with Breezy Diether, an education intern at NMWA, at the Museum Shop Trunk Show and Sale.

Yesterday, Rebecca Lolosoli came to NMWA’s Museum Shop for the International Women Artisans Initiative Trunk Show and Sale and discussed her important work. Rebecca was recognized by Vital Voices at the 2010 Global Leaderships Awards on March 10th for her creation of the Umoja Uaso Women’s Organization in Kenya.

Women in the Umoja Organization support themselves through making and selling beaded jewelry and crafts, enabling them to leave behind lives of poverty. Rebecca said that young girls are taught how to create jewelry by their mothers. Traditionally, seeds were used for the beads but now they use beautiful beads purchased in Nairobi. Rebecca used to make her own jewelry but due to her leadership responsibilities rarely has the time to create her own work.

Rebecca explained that the Umoja Organization assists women throughout the Samburu District in Kenya in the sales process, providing advice about where to buy materials and market their jewelry. The Umoja Organization has grown significantly over the past nineteen years and now Vital Voices has given them the opportunity to sell their crafts internationally. Rebecca encourages women to establish groups of craftsman in their own communities as a support system. The Umoja Organization enables women with a skill to support their family. “It’s good for them,” she says. “It changes their lives.”

About the Author-Breezy Diether is currently an education intern at NMWA.

NMWA and Vital Voices Global Partnership Present a Trunk Show and Special Reception on March 15, 2–8 p.m.

Museum Shop International Women Artisans Initiative Trunk Show and Sale

Purchase a wide range of jewelry, home accents and personal accessories made by courageous women around the world who use their creative abilities to improve economic stability and enhance the lives of their families. A portion of the proceeds from sales of these products will assist women in this effort.

The NMWA Museum Shop established the International Women Artisans Initiative to recognize the global, artistic traditions of women artisans, and further link decorative design and functional craft with social responsibility and the promise of dignity for all women.

Special Reception to Meet Rebecca Lolosoli, 2010 Vital Voices Leadership Honoree

Rebecca Lolosoli from Kenya will be recognized at the 2010 Global Leaderships Awards on March 10th. The Awards honor and celebrate women leaders around the world who are working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity, and protect human rights.

Rebecca Lolosoli is receiving this honor from Vital Voices due to her leadership in the creation and establishment of the Umoja Uaso Women’s Organization. Throughout her life, Rebecca witnessed discrimination and cruelty towards women in her Samburu culture in Kenya. She began to advocate for better treatment for women, speaking out against the male leadership of her community. Her cries were met with violence as she was beaten for her ideas and opinions.

After being rejected for her plea for justice Rebecca changed tactics.  Along with 16 other homeless women she created the Umoja Organization. Umoja, meaning “unity”, was established to create a haven for women. The Umoja Organization is a place for abused women to come for support, safety and resources. Women in the Umoja Organization are able to support themselves through making and selling jewelry, enabling them to leave behind lives of poverty. Through their artistic creations these women are able to rise above what is expected of them and become female leaders in their own communities.

Vital Voices Global Partnership

The nonprofit Vital Voices Global Partnership grew out of the U.S. government’s successful Vital Voices Democracy Initiative. The Vital Voices Democracy Initiative was established in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy goal.

Under the leadership of the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, the U.S. government, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the European Union and other governments coordinated Vital Voices conferences throughout the world, bringing together thousands of emerging women leaders from more than 80 countries. These conferences launched regional Vital Voices initiatives that continue to give women the skills and resources they need to lift up themselves, their communities, and their countries.

The overwhelmingly positive response to the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative led to the creation of Vital Voices Global Partnership as a nonprofit non-governmental organization in June 2000. Vital Voices is now continuing the work of advancing women’s economic, political and social status around the world, by providing skills, networking, and other support to women around the world, whether they are working to increase women’s political participation in Latin America or promote women’s entrepreneurship in the Middle East.

History provided by vitalvoices.org

Contact MuseumShop@nmwa.org for more information.

About the Author-Breezy Diether is currently an education intern at NMWA.

Trunk Show and Presentation with Carol Cassidy

Support women artists!

Join us NMWA Saturday, September 12th, from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM for a Trunk  Show and presentation with Carol Cassidy!

Laos

In conjunction with the Museum Shop’s International Women Artisans Initiative and in partnership with VirtuArte, Carol Cassidy, the award winning textile designer, will give a visual presentation about Lao Textiles, the independent weaving studio she created for the preservation of local traditions in Laos. Sales of the products provide the weavers a source of income and allow expression of their skills and heritage. Following the presentation a wide array of the beautiful scarves, shawls, etc. will be available for purchase. Special Savings of 25% OFF all purchases in the Museum Shop’s “Global Gallery and Marketplace” will be offered from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For more information contact Lynda Marks at lmarks@nmwa.org.

Free, no reservations required.