Labille-Guiard’s Portrait of Madame Adélaïde (1787)

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard is today a lesser-known contemporary of Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun even though both enjoyed considerable fame in their time. Labille-Guiard's portrait at left of Madame Adélaïde de France, daughter of Louis XV, is immediately notable for the fact that artist and sitter shared the same first name and that the French artist, in her imagination, would like to be known as Adélaïde de France. Secondly, the composition proposes the fiction that Mme Adélaïde, like the artist, is a trained draughtsman who in a demonstration of filial piety has painted the profiles of the late King and Queen, her parents, and that of the late Dauphin too.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Labille-Guiard, Portrait of Madame Adélaïde (1787) Oil on canvas. Chateau de Versailles, Versailles

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Perhaps the idea that the king's aunt might be an artist is so absurd, no-one would take it seriously just as no one thought Marie-Antoinette was a farmer's daughter. Note, though, how Madame's brush or black chalk points inwards towards her own dress as though to suggest that in painting herself black becomes gold (left). Anyone with an interest in alchemy or other esoteric traditions might know that the soul passes through blackness (the dark interior of our minds, as in  Dante's Inferno) before it can reach gold (union with God, as in Dante's Paradiso.)

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Detail of Labille-Guiard's Portrait of Madame Adélaïde

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Even Madame's face looks somewhat like the artist's, especially her chin and large lips. Evidence suggests that, despite the risk the artist ran in fusing her features with the patron's, few viewers would notice the facial alteration. Labille-Guiard's adoption of the princess' outward persona enables her as a female artist to present her soul as royal, just as male artists borrowed the symbolism of the king.

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Labille-Guiard's Portrait of Madame Adélaïde
R: Self-portrait detail of Self-portrait with Two Students

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More Works by Labille-Guiard

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 27 Mar 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.