5 Fast Facts: Amy Sherald

Impress your friends with five fast facts about painter Amy Sherald (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

1. Figure It Out

Sherald’s fascination with portraiture began at a young age when she explored art history through encyclopedias. Enthralled by the illustrations, she came to the conclusion that a great artist has the ability to expertly render the human form.

2. Make It Big

Sherald first visited a museum on a sixth grade field trip, and she still remembers the impact of seeing Bo Bartlett’s 10-by-14-foot Object Permanence (1986). This work sparked her desire to create large-scale figurative paintings.

3. Do What You Love

The daughter of a dentist, Sherald entered Clark-Atlanta University as a pre-med student, but her passion for painting was too strong to ignore. She switched majors in the middle of her junior year and began to focus on her art in earnest.

4. Model Behavior

The model featured in They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009), in NMWA’s collection, also appears in another of work by Sherald, Well Prepared and Maladjusted (2008). According to the artist, “[The model] was tall and different looking, and she had this really awesome Afro bouff.”

5. Herstory

In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her work Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) (2013).

Want to meet the artist? Join us on May 9, 2017 for a special Artists in Conversation program featuring Amy Sherald. Reserve your spot online!

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Friendships: Lola Álvarez Bravo and Frida Kahlo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903–1993) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) became friends through the same social circles in Mexico?

Nationalist Pride

One of Mexico’s first women photographers, Lola Álvarez Bravo’s works are celebrated for documenting daily life in post-revolutionary Mexico. Álvarez Bravo said, “If my photographs have any value, it’s because they show a Mexico that no longer exists.” Her work in NMWA’s collection, De generación en generación (1950), expresses a strong sense of Mexican nationalist pride combined with universal human emotions.

Frida Kahlo is renowned for her poignant, often shocking, self-portraits. Although she is referred to as a Surrealist, Kahlo maintained, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Remembered for her tragic life story and her turbulent marriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was foremost a fierce painter and political activist. Her work in NMWA’s collection, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937), is one of Kahlo’s softer self-portraits, meant to commemorate her brief affair with the Russian revolutionary Trotsky.

Amigas for Life

Álvarez Bravo started taking her own photographs after serving as an assistant to her husband, photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. After their divorce, she began her own successful, independent career. It was also through her husband that she met Kahlo. Both artists were involved in the same social circles in Mexico and shared similar nationalistic outlooks that influenced their respective artistic practices.

Álvarez Bravo’s most well-known photos featuring Kahlo are often praised for their honesty and intimacy. Kahlo even fastened one of these portraits to the front of her diary, indicating the respect that she had for the photographer. In addition to capturing numerous portraits of Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo also directed a film starring the painter, but it was never completed because of Kahlo’s declining health. Álvarez Bravo hosted Kahlo’s first solo exhibition in Mexico at her own gallery, shortly before Kahlo’s untimely death.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Madeline Barnes is the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Sonya Clark

Impress your friends with five fast facts about textile artist Sonya Clark (b. 1967), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Sonya Clark (b. 1967)

1. Hair’s to You!

Clark’s fascination with hair began at an early age, when neighborhood teenagers plaited her locks. She often uses human hair in her textile works because it’s a material loaded with meaning. Hair can serves as a portrait of an individual, a record of one’s ancestry, and an arena through which society negotiates race.

2. Picturing Pride

The artist alters a variety of familiar objects, like currency and combs, to create powerful portraits of prominent figures from American history. Her representations celebrate Abraham Lincoln for his role as an early civil rights leader, Barack Obama as the first black president, and Madame C.J. Walker as a civil rights activist and self-made millionaire.

3. “Bad” Hair Day

Prevailing social constructs have stigmatized black hair as “bad.” Clark addresses race-based valuations of hair in works like NAP (2011). By reclaiming and embracing a word that has traditionally held negative connotations, she calls into question assumptions that silky, straight, smooth hair is the only “good” hair out there.

4. Salon Style

The exhibition Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, currently on view at the Taubman Museum of Art, includes works by Clark as well as a collaborative project. Richmond-area hairdressers contributed textiles inspired by black hairstyles to Clark’s The Hair Craft Project. “Hairdressers are my heroes,” says Clark.

5. Unraveling Racism

In Unraveling and Unraveled (2015), Clark painstakingly deconstructed, thread by thread, a Confederate flag. For many Americans, this symbol represents bigotry and oppression. With three quarters of the flag left intact Clark leaves the process unfinished, suggesting that the hard work of defeating racism is not done.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 28, 2017

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale tops best-seller lists and is the subject of a recent Hulu adaption. An installation on New York’s High Line, designed by Paula Scher and Abbott Miller, offers 4,000 free copies of Atwood’s novel for visitors to read and take away.

The New Yorker delves into the Hulu adaptation, which sets Atwood’s novel closer to the present day. NPR states that the television drama offers a “very timely and very feminist message.” The New York Times shares a list of reviews, essays, and features to read before watching the episodes. Ane Crabtree, the show’s costume designer, spoke to Vanity Fair about her artistic approach.

Front-Page Femmes

Hyperallergic describes NMWA’s installation From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir as a “uniquely brilliant exhibition.”

The Rubens House is searching for six paintings by Michaelina Wautier. The “Five Senses” series dates from 1650 and consists of five signed and dated works on canvas.

The National Endowment for the Arts released its latest data on the arts and cultural sector’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

Jeanine Michna-Bales photographed 100 sites along the Underground Railroad.

Artist Athena Papadopoulos lists her favorite works, including her impressions of the works, a descriptor taken from Richard Serra’s Verb List, and which cocktail should be had in the presence of each.

Pop artist Marisol left her estate to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, including 100 sculptures, 150 works on paper, thousands of photographs, and her New York City apartment.

Vivian Maier’s photographs have become the subject of multiple lawsuits.

After a breakdown, Ida Applebroog created art grappling with her depression.

Laurie Simmons’s film My Art includes nods to the artist’s real life.

The Tate St Ives, opening in October, will host Rebecca Warren’s first major solo show in the United Kingdom.

Florine Stettheimer’s works are being celebrated by museums and collectors after years of obscurity.

The Musée Camille Claudel showcases 43 of the artist’s sculptures, the largest collection anywhere in the world.

Syrian-American performance poet Mona Haydar released her first rap song this month.

Beyoncé will help four women pay for their college education, including a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Shows We Want to See

A Dangerous Woman: Subversion and Surrealism in the Art of Honoré Sharrer, on view at the Columbus Museum of Art, offers visitors an opportunity to respond to the question “Why do you think Honoré Sharrer was a dangerous woman?”

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, on view at the Brooklyn Museum, honors black women artists who paved the way for today’s artists and activists.

The Guggenheim Bilbao and Tate Modern will host surveys of textile artist and printmaker Anni Albers’s works.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Friendships: Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Mary Jane Russell

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) and model Mary Jane Russell (1926–2003) developed a close friendship after collaborating on photo shoots for years?

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris, 1950; Gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris, 1950; Gelatin silver print, 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Fixative Focus

Renowned for her work with Harper’s Bazaar, Louise Dahl-Wolfe revolutionized the fashion industry by arranging models outdoors or in front of interesting backdrops that rivaled the clothes they were wearing. Dahl-Wolfe spent 22 years working in the fashion world before retiring from the magazine in 1958. NMWA’s collection contains more than 100 photographs by Dahl-Wolfe, including five works that feature Mary Jane Russell.

Mary Jane Russell signed as a model with the Ford Agency in 1948, just in time for the debut of the “New Look.” She was a favorite model of many photographers, including Dahl-Wolfe. One of Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs in NMWA’s collection, Mary Jane Russell in Dior Dress, Paris (1950), features Russell posing in profile and elongating her neck, while putting on elegant evening gloves. Dahl-Wolfe placed Russell in front of a luxurious background that challenges the dress, while the contrast between the two directs the viewer’s eye directly to the dress and Russell.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, courtesy of the Louise Dahl-Wolfe Archive. © Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents, 1989

Fashion Forward Friends

After meeting on a set, Russell quickly became one of Dahl-Wolfe’s favorite models. Dahl-Wolfe’s eccentric techniques coupled with Russell’s short stature and elongated neck resulted in unconventional photographs that brought personality and life to fashion advertisements. Dahl-Wolfe valued Russell’s input on shoots, making the photographs a joint effort. “Louise was a benevolent dictator, except with Mary Jane. She’d let Mary Jane say, ‘I think the dress would show better this way’” Russell’s husband, Edward, recalled.

The photographer even broke an unwritten industry rule not to photograph the same model for more than two collections after trying unsuccessfully to find a suitable replacement for Russell. Dahl-Wolfe later said, “I hated the popular look of models in those days. I called it the ‘Candy Box’ look—all translucent white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. I liked yellowish skin and green eyes, and I found it with Betty Bacall, and above all with Mary Jane Russell, who was marvelous.” By the end of her career, an estimated 30 percent of Dahl-Wolfe’s photos featured Russell.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Plan of Paris (Mary Jane Russell in Dior Gown), 1951; Gelatin silver print, 4 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Plan of Paris (Mary Jane Russell in Dior Gown), 1951; Gelatin silver print, 4 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler; © 1989 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Their friendship lasted 12 years, producing some of the most iconic photographs of the time. Reflecting on their relationship, Russell said, “One was never selfish with Louise. There was an extraordinary, immediate communication of her conscientiousness, her seriousness. She was wicked, challenging, exasperating, and heavenly. It was a rare, rare, extraordinary experience. She was the most beautiful person in my working life.”

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Madeline Barnes is the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

#5WomenArtists Goes Global

In honor of Women’s History Month, the museum launched the second year of its award-winning #5WomenArtists social media campaign, which asks, “Can you name five women artists?” The museum invited cultural organizations and individuals to share stories about women artists on social media throughout the month. The campaign inspired a discussion about gender imbalance in the art world in the U.S. and internationally—to great success! Check out a few highlights of the campaign:

One staff member dressed as Frida Kahlo brought the challenge to Washington, D.C. streets.

Overall, the month was filled with consciousness-raising digital initiatives. Forty-four participants edited 83 Wikipedia articles about women artists in the fifth annual Wikipedia edit-a-thon hosted at the museum. Part of the Art+Feminism initiative, edit-a-thon participants used the museum’s resources to improve entries about women artists. NMWA offered a daily scavenger hunt in the museum and hosted a before-hours InstaMeet for local photographers to explore and snap photos of the museum’s newly reinstalled collection galleries. NMWA staff shared their favorite works by women for International Women’s Day.

The museum also “took over” other institutions’ social media accounts to share the stories of women artists with a broader digital community, including sharing nature-themed works from @BalboaPark’s Instagram, collection highlights from the Brightest Young Things accounts, and the museum’s mission and history from the @52museums handle. NMWA’s collection works also anchored the all-women #ArtMadness “bracket,” the Albright-Knox Gallery’s NCAA March Madness-themed competition.

#5womenartists posts on Instagram

#5womenartists posts on Instagram

Many organizations included #5WomenArtists in their own Women’s History Month programming. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art invited five women artists to speak about their experiences and the Royal British Columbia Museum hosted a museum happy hour event highlighting contemporary First Nations artists. Manor View Elementary School even created a bulletin board dedicated to the campaign. Individual participants reflected on the campaign, including one tweet stating, “#5WomenArtists has been one of the more influential hashtags for me. I knew at least five when I first saw it, but can name many more now!” Another Twitter user said, “The #5WomenArtists challenge is one of my favorite times of the #MuseSocial year! Thanks, @WomenInTheArts.” The challenge also inspired other hashtags, including #5WomenScientists and #5ArtistasMujeres.

Explore campaign highlights on the museum’s Women’s History Month web page. Continue to advocate on behalf of women artists and celebrate their accomplishments all year. Every month is Women’s History Month at the museum!

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 21, 2017

Polish sculptor and fiber artist Magdalena Abakanowicz passed away today at the age of 86. Abakanowicz was best known for her monumental woven forms referred to as “Abakans.”

The New York Times delves into the beginning of the artist’s career, her life during World War II, and her most memorable works. Her work 4 Seated Figures (2002) in NMWA’s collection blends her personal memories with her broader vision of a modern world shaped by war and political upheaval. In her description of the figures, Abakanowicz said, “They are naked, exposed, and vulnerable, just as we all are.”

Front-Page Femmes

University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts interviewed Border Crossing artist Jami Porter Lara.

The Atlantic explores the incentives and funding for women in STEM. The article asks, “Has the push toward STEM inadvertently stymied women in the arts and humanities?”

Kara Walker discusses working in the public eye, her oeuvre, and persisting issues surrounding racism.

Carolee Schneemann receives the 57th Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award.

Keltie Ferris covered herself in oil and pigment and repeatedly imprinted her body on paper.

Judith F. Baca’s mural The History of California presents history from the perspectives of the state’s underrepresented residents.

Allie Wist’s fictional photo essay features a dinner party menu at a time when climate change has altered diets.

More than 6,500 women artists are featured in new or expanded Wikipedia pages after the Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thons last month.

Ivette Cabrera explores the discrepancies in the ways society views and portrays women.

Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) celebrates women artists who have previously been omitted from art history texts.

Sharon Lockhart collaborated with teen girls from Poland in translating youth-focused newspapers produced by orphans between 1926 and 1939.

Diane Arbus’s early works depicting city life in the mid-1950s through early 1960s capture youth and entertainment through the eyes of a spectator.

American soprano and Shenson performer Nadine Sierra won the prestigious 2017 Richard Tucker Award, which comes with a cash prize of $50,000 and a gala concert.

Shows We Want to See

Hyperallergic writes that the exhibition Marisa Merz: The Sky Is a Great Space is “as captivating and shrewd as the artist’s tiny scarpetta.” artnet explores one of Merz’s works on view at Met Breur, Bea, made in honor of Merz’s eight-year-old daughter Beatrice.

The inaugural exhibition at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art features work by Dana Awartani, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Zarina Hashmi, and Nasreen Mohamedi.

Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction at MoMA offers an alternate history of abstraction through work by women artists, including Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Anni Albers, Agnes Martin, and Joan Mitchell.

Liz Nurenberg’s exhibition encourages audiences to directly interact with her work, creating a tactile experience that allows the imagination to take over.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: Richenda Cunningham’s Letter

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) to see new books on art, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more!

Richenda Cunningham, Temple of Caius & Lucius Caesar, or Maison Carre (from the series "Nine Views Taken on the Continent"), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Richenda Cunningham, Temple of Caius & Lucius Caesar, or Maison Carre (from the series “Nine Views Taken on the Continent”), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

The LRC recently acquired an original letter from British printer Richenda (Gurney) Cunningham (1782–1855). Her lithographic portfolio of travel prints “Nine Views Taken on the Continent” (ca. 1830) resides in the museum’s collection and was on view in the 2011 exhibition The Art of Travel: Picturesque Views of Europe by Richenda Cunningham.

“Nine Views” consists of nine 13-by-16 inch prints that were drawn by Cunningham and produced by prominent English lithograph printer Charles Joseph Hullmandel. The series includes drawings of landscapes and tourist locales such as Provence and the Rhineland, which Cunningham visited when touring Europe in 1815.

Cunningham was greatly influenced by Romanticism, a pervasive movement sweeping England in the 18th and 19th centuries that encouraged a love of nature and travel. Cunningham’s “Nine Views” could be compared to other popular travelogue-style lithographs  from the time. The artist included visually enticing elements of rugged landscapes for embellishment. Her lithographs were likely produced in the 1820s and 1830s, before lithography became a more commercial practice in the mid-century.

Richenda Cunningham, Villar, Valley of Luzerne, Piedmont (from the series "Nine Views Taken on the Continent"), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Richenda Cunningham, Villar, Valley of Luzerne, Piedmont (from the series “Nine Views Taken on the Continent”), ca. 1830; Lithograph on paper, 13 x 16 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Cunningham’s prints were in such high enough demand that they had to be re-printed several times, evident from the letter, which is a response to a request for more prints by a patron, Ms. Thompson. This letter shows Cunningham dealing with her own business transactions as a professional artist. In the letter Cunningham “takes the liberty of charging” Ms. Thompson with two more copies of her prints, then politely invites her to the artist’s home “should any circumstances lead [Ms. Thompson] into our neighborhood.” This letter is both a business record and a piece of personal correspondence, helping us to better understand the daily interactions of a woman artist in the 19th century.

Letter from Richenda Cunningham to Ms. Thompson. Dated September 21, 18--. Betty Boyd Library & Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Letter from Richenda Cunningham to Ms. Thompson. Dated September 21, 18–. Betty Boyd Library and Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The LRC is always thrilled to acquire primary source material concerning artists represented in the museum’s collection. This letter is particularly interesting because there is so little known about the details of Cunningham’s life.

All are welcome to view this letter in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Lauren Redding is the spring 2017 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: April 14, 2017

The Guardian reports that artist Gillian Wearing will be first woman to create a statue for London’s Parliament Square. Wearing will create a monument of suffragist Millicent Fawcett.

“Millicent Fawcett was an incredible woman and by honoring her in Parliament Square I believe she will continue to inspire generations to come,” said Wearing.

Front-Page Femmes

Hyperallergic reviews Border Crossing and applauds Jami Porter Lara’s ability to transform the idea of the water bottle into something culturally significant and deeply symbolic.

This year, for the first time Pulitzer Prize for Music’s 74-year history, all three finalists were women.

Malika Favre’s animated cover illustration for The New Yorker sparked a challenge for women surgeons to replicate the image in real life.

Artsy celebrates ten women Bauhaus members as the school’s 100th anniversary approaches.

“I’m interested in the experiential quality of a large painting,” says Mary Weatherford. “Gigantic paintings that one can relate to with one’s body rather than with one’s eyes or mind.”

“As an artist [Anicka Yi] is distinguished by sculpting in scents,” writes Cultured Magazine.

Ekin Onat’s project for the Venice Biennale sensationally exposes police brutality and political revolt in Turkey.

Tracey Emin helped the U.K.’s National Portrait Gallery purchase her 2002 “death mask.”

Sarah Lucas plans weekend events with titles including “One Thousand Eggs” and “Bunny Action Painting.”

The Washington Post explores how many Bollywood films tackle gender inequality and women’s experiences, but only few do so in women’s voices.

Artist Rachel Owens spent months casting different parts of the Alley Pond Giant, the oldest living organism in New York City.

Shannon May Mackenzie’s documentary Rotatio shows the artist processing her rape through a work she created and destroyed.

The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers details what was asked of women during World War I.

Hyperallergic discusses the remarkable films of Anne Marie Miéville.

Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe: Recipes, Art, and Landscape gives readers new insight into the famed artist’s world and a chance to see the ways in which O’Keeffe connected food and art.

Shows We Want to See

In her first solo exhibition in the U.S., conceptual artist Martine Syms will immerse MoMA visitors in her works, which explore notions of blackness, feminism, queer theory, and language.

Power, a group show of 37 African American female artists at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles, unites generations of artists across mediums through their stories and subject matter.

A retrospective of Alice Neel’s work at David Zwirner Gallery reveals the artist’s ability to portray the depth and humanity of each of her subjects.

Hans Ulrich Obrist reveals the late Maria Lassnig’s fascination with mythology and antiquity in a new exhibition of never-before-shown watercolors.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Happy Birthday, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard!

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749–1803) was a celebrated female artist in 18th-century France. Labille-Guiard’s artistic career was hindered by the changes in power surrounding the French Revolution and was somewhat restricted due to her gender, but she was also awarded unusual opportunities.

Labille-Guiard received formal training under a family friend, François-Elie Vincent, because women were not allowed in the classrooms of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Society deemed it improper for women to learn alongside men. She trained as a miniaturist, and in 1774, at the age of 25, Labille-Guiard exhibited two works at the Salon. Three years later, she broke gender norms by painting in oils, which she learned from François-André Vincent, the son of her former instructor.

Labille-Guiard was admitted to the Royal Academy on May 31, 1783—the same day as Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun. Because both women were primarily portraitists they were cast as competitors, but this was likely not the case, as they had little interaction besides their involvement in Academy Salons. The Royal Academy limited membership to four women at a time, so the simultaneous admission of two women caused controversy among members who did not support the inclusion of women. With the admission of Labille-Guiard and Vigée-LeBrun, the Academy reached its quota for women artists, together with the portrait and still-life painter Anne Vallayer-Coster and miniaturist Marie-Thérèse Reboul Vien. Labille-Guiard signed the Academy’s register as “Adélaïde des Vertues” to represent the fact that women artists risked upsetting societal expectations, which held that virtuous women belonged solely to the private, domestic sphere.

Her admittance to the Academy, commissions from Louis XVI’s sisters, and the creation of her masterpiece Self Portrait with Two Pupils (1785) increased her reputation and popularity, despite rumors spread by critics following her Academy debut. However, her career faced challenges that would slow her momentum as the French Revolution progressed. Radicals shamed Labille-Guiard for her association with the Paris elite and their lavish lifestyles. Prominent painter Jacques-Louis David did not approve of women in the Academy, and Labille-Guiard fell further out of favor. At this point, a government committee ordered her to submit works, including her largest painting, to be burned.

Labille-Guiard left Paris for the countryside as the Reign of Terror worsened. She did not abandon her painting during this time, continuing to teach students who fled with her. She eventually returned to Paris, but was unable to return to prominence under the new government. Despite working during a time of social and political upheaval, the life and career of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard is one of opportunity and strength, as she was allowed entry into the Academy in recognition of her talents, and continued to practice as an artist despite oppressive radical forces.

Meghan Masius is the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.