Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido 1785

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido, 1785; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Trained by her father, a goldsmith and tapestry designer to the French king, Anne Vallayer-Coster gained renown for her still-life paintings, but also painted portraits of members of the royal family and other luminaries.

Her depiction of Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido reveals her deep knowledge of her famous sitter. In 1783, Anne-Antoinette Clavel (known as Saint-Huberty, 1756-1812) performed the leading role in Niccolò Piccinni’s opera Didon. According to Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, who portrayed Saint-Huberty in a pastel of 1780, “Mme Saint-Huberti not only possessed a superb voice but was also a truly great actress.”

Positioned against a grisaille rendering of an architectural arch and reliefs, Huberty is shown singing the verse: “Ah que je fus bien inspirée/ Quand je vous reçus dans ma Cour!” (Oh, how inspired I was when I received you in my court).

In her choice of subject (the opera derives from Virgil’s Aeneid) and use of compositional elements that draw inspiration from ancient architecture, Vallayer-Coster embraced the tenets of Neoclassicism.

National Museum of Women in the Arts