The Boundaries of Femininity: A Case for Two Women Artists Working in Eighteenth-century France
Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard were two of the most prominent women artists in France during the second half of the eighteenth-century. I argue in this thesis that in their responses to a range of societal limitations, Vigée-Lebrun and Labille- Guiard forged remarkable careers. I will examine just how they did so by focusing on the artists’ self-portraits, their portraits of the royal family, divergent responses to the revolution, and their subsequent production. My thesis will explore the ways in which those limitations also created opportunities. Most studies on women artists are monographic, but by comparing Vigée-Lebrun’s and Labille-Guiard’s careers, new insights emerge. The first chapter will provide the background for my argument by discussing the long-debated “woman question.” I focus my study on how women artists navigated their careers. Juxtaposing the careers of Vigée-Lebrun and Labille-Guiard with their contemporary, Jacques-Louis David, shows how societal constructs of gender impacted the different ways in which careers unfolded. In the second chapter I discuss Vigée-Lebrun’s and Labille-Guiard’s self-portraits. I explore how the artists capitalized on different aspects of societal ideals. In the third chapter I focus on the artists’ representations of members of the royal family. Focusing on Vigée-Lebrun’s innovative portrayal of Marie Antoinette and Labille-Guiard’s more traditional, yet remarkable portrait of Madame Adelaide, I will show how each artist employed different strategies in order to succeed. In the fourth chapter I contrast each artist’s response to the revolution and describe how it affected their production in the later stages of their careers.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Self-portraiture as a tool for advancement -- Royal representations -- Revolutionary responses -- Conclusion