Through a Louvre Window

Anne Higonnet


Two régimes overlapped in the Louvre between about 1790 and 1805. The Salon exhibition, held in its Salon Carré, was democratically open to all artists, and so was the first modern museum, in its Grande Galerie. Yet artists were still living and working in the apartments awarded to them as monarchic privileges. This overlap inadvertently produced a studio for ambitious young women, and a marvelous portrait, whose view through a Louvre window expressed women’s revolutionary hopes.

Fig. 1. Marie Denise Villers, Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, 1801. Oil on canvas, 161.3 x 128.6cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Mr and Mrs Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917. 17.120.204. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

Fig. 1. Marie Denise Villers, Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, 1801. Oil on canvas, 161.3 x 128.6cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Mr and Mrs Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917. 17.120.204. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,


An Exceptional Painting

The painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which currently attributes it to Marie-Denise Villers, titles it Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, and dates it 1801 (Fig. 1).  The painting occurs at the intersection of several histories, all extensively studied: histories of painting during the French Revolutionary era, of gender and art between the 1780s and 1810s, and of fashion culture during the Directoire (1795-99) and Consulat (1799-1804).[1] My subject is how one exceptional painting contends with these fields, to produce an image whose appeal has endured across time, regardless of its author.

Ever since the Met portrait surfaced in 1897, it has been considered exceptional.[2] Held in the du Val d’Ognes family collection for several generations, it was attributed to Jacques-Louis David, and bought as such. When it was given to the Met in 1917, the museum announced the portrait would “henceforth be known in the art world as ‘the New York David,’ just as we speak of the Man in the Fur Cap of the Hermitage, or the Sistine Madonna of Dresden.”[3] Sure enough, the portrait instantly became a popular favorite, and has remained beloved to this day.

Nonetheless, from the Met portrait’s first public appearance onward, it was considered to be unusual among David’s paintings. Commentators felt that it corrected David’s politics and his history paintings, which were then at best begrudgingly admired, and often deplored. In 1948, the eminent writer André Maurois echoed a half century’s worth of opinion:

As soon as he was faced with a real model, and no longer left to the imagination he didn’t have, or the erudition he thought he had, he forgot his fatal theories…. the most astonishing of his portraits of women is the one of Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, tough portrait of a smart ugly woman, back-lit, sunk in shadow and mystery, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Light enters through a cracked window. Its colors have the fineness and rarity of Vermeer’s. Perfect painting, unforgettable. [4]

By the time Maurois wrote about the Met portrait, curator Charles Stirling had begun to dismantle its attribution to David. In 1951, Stirling publicly but tentatively suggested an attribution to a little-known woman.[5] Contrary to what has often been alleged, the Met displayed the portrait as prominently as before. Though the Met’s painting curator admitted the painting was not by David, he nonetheless called it “one of the brightest spots in the collection.”[6] Bernard Berenson, at the height of his connoisseur prestige in 1954, published a book on fundamental formal qualities in painting, in which he reproduced the Met portrait full page, and wrote:

that unique combination of interior and seated figure, the young Mlle Charlotte du Val d’Ognes looking up from the drawing board on her knees. This fascinating canvas, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is perhaps not by David himself, but, as can happen, carries a master’s art a step further than he himself would bring it. [7]

Next, the portrait, re-titled Young Woman Drawing (following standard Met practice to drop the identification of a sitter when attribution changes) became an icon of feminist art history. Because the portrait’s authorship had been mistaken for a great man’s, it proved how high the quality of a woman’s authorship could be. Moreover, it showed a woman at work, looking confidently straight out at her audience. In 1976, two women art historians judged: “The painting is tremendously appealing, an eighteenth-century Mona Lisa really.”[8]

In 1995 Margaret Oppenheimer, who had recently written her PhD dissertation on women artists during the Revolution, argued as plausibly as possible (given some crucial missing evidence) that the author of the painting was Marie-Denise Villers.[9] My own research for this essay helped convince the Met to reinstate Charlotte du Val d’Ognes as its model. Yet neither Villers nor du Val d’Ognes left any other work comparable to the Met portrait. Only one surviving finished painting, A Study of A Woman After Nature (1802), can be securely attributed to Villers, and though Susan Siegfried has astutely pointed out its many significant connections to fashion culture, it is not by any means a great work of art.[10] Among other factors, it does not tackle the question, as the Met portrait does, of what it means to be an artist. So we are still left with the mysterious case of a uniquely important work by an obscure author.

We may never know what it was about Villers or du Val d’Ognes as individuals that inspired the outcome of their encounter. We might never even be quite sure that the author of the painting was Villers, or its subject du Val d’Ognes, though I take those possibilities seriously enough to keep coming back to them. All we know for certain is that the portrait was displayed at the Salon of 1801, then called Year IX according to the Revolutionary calendar. A challenge, however, can be an opportunity. Precisely because the authorship of the painting explains so little, I have turned, for the first time in the painting’s history, to a search for the meaning of its subject. An identification of the painting’s details suggests a truly revolutionary insight into the condition of the woman artist. Ultimately, the painting’s meanings are carried in its forms, which combine signs of traditional intellectual skill with signs of a new beginning for art.


Identifiable Things & Places

At the center of the portrait, its sitter holds the standard tools of an elite artistic vocation: a drawing portfolio and lead-holder. Drawing had been considered the intellectual foundation of painting for centuries. But around these signs of perennial erudition, a ring of other details set the portrait in a very specific here and now. They were all extremely fashionable in 1801. Indeed, the best way to identify their materials, use, and reputation is to match them with the captioned and dated plates, all titled “Costume Parisien, from a remarkably inventive, modern magazine, the Journal des dames et des modes. Edited by Pierre de La Mésengère, founded in 1797, the Journal set the fashion tone for all of Europe.[11] Which is to say that the objects and places represented in the portrait were intended to evoke a contemporary moment.

Fig. 2. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 348, Journal des dames et des modes, Year XI. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by the author.

Fig. 2. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 348, Journal des dames et des modes, Year XI. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by the author.

Circling around the painting, we can start with the hairstyle. Its rim of loose curls around the face and neck, with the rest pinned back high on the head, appears in many “Costume Parisien” plates between 1797 and 1804, for example no. 424, dated, according to the Revolutionary calendar, Year XI (Fig. 2).[12] The dress is also at the height of fashion: columnar and made of the white cotton fabric that early global capitalism brought from India to France. It too appears in many Journal des dames et des modes plates around 1801, among them no. 27, dated “1798” (Fig. 3). The appropriate outer garment for such neo-classical dresses was a shawl; no. 84 (1799) shows dress and shawl worn together (Fig. 4).  In the Year X, the Journal pronounced that for shawls, “pink is still the dominant color.”[13] Equally stylish is the chair over which the shawl is draped. Called a Klismos chair, it made a famous appearance in David’s 1789 Brutus.[14] From 1789 to 1795, during the early Revolution and the Terror, fashion was put on hold, while political turmoil precluded much production of material goods. After the Terror, Klismos chairs, with or without arm-rests, were commissioned by the leading Directoire style-setters Joséphine de Beauharnais, Juliette Récamier, and Theresa Tallien, and designed in droves for fashionable interiors, notably by Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine.

LEFT: Fig. 3. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 27, Journal des dames et des modes, 1798. Image source: Pinterest. RIGHT: Fig. 4. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 94, Journal des dames et des modes, 1799. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

LEFT: Fig. 3. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 27, Journal des dames et des modes, 1798. Image source: Pinterest.
RIGHT: Fig. 4. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 94, Journal des dames et des modes, 1799. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The portfolio’s blue-green shape slants toward the window scene (Fig. 5), where fashion also reigns. There, a tiny female figure wears the same hairstyle, dress, and shawl as the woman in the foreground, perhaps to indicate they are versions of the same person. The male companion with whom she exchanges gazes also wears a fashionable outfit, found, for instance, in Journal des dames et des modes plate no. 397, Year X (Fig. 6). An earlier article in the same magazine describes identical clothing, while it conveys fashion’s contagious precision.

All the elegant men wear dark blue, dark brown, or black tail-coats. The shape of this tail-coat has not changed for several months. It isn’t only scarlet vests, with gold borders, whose lower parts are cut like a Parisian jacket; the same shape is given to white vests, and like scarlet vests, they have only one row of buttons. Pleated jabots with rounded pleats are almost universally adopted. [15]

LEFT: Fig. 5. Detail of Fig. 1. RIGHT: Fig. 6. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 397, Journal des dames et des modes, Year X. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by the author.

LEFT: Fig. 5. Detail of Fig. 1.
RIGHT: Fig. 6. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 397, Journal des dames et des modes, Year X. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by the author.

More difficult to identify is the window scene. The miniature scale of its contents, the oddly high blank grey wall below the couple, and the strangely roofless three-story façade above the wall, considerably behind the couple to our right, all evoke a dream, or some kind of unreal space. Yet the accuracy of the portrait’s fashion details suggests a realistic identification of the window scene might be possible. Indeed, eighteenth-century maps of Paris do help locate the scene, especially the 1739 Plan de Turgot, with its meticulous axonometric rendition of spatial and architectural details. The window scene represents the intersection of the rue des Saints Pères with the quai Malaquais, seen from across the Seine looking south and slightly west (Fig. 7).[16]

Fig. 7. Louis Brétez (cartographer) and Claude Lucas (engraver), Detail of the Plan de Turgot (showing sightline between the Galerie du Louvre and the Quai Malaquais), 1739. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Fig. 7. Louis Brétez (cartographer) and Claude Lucas (engraver), Detail of the Plan de Turgot (showing sightline between the Galerie du Louvre and the Quai Malaquais), 1739. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Charlotte du Val d’Ognes’s descendants maintained she had lived on the corner of the rue des Saints Pères and the quai Malaquais when she was a student.[17] I would like to believe that the scene in the window is of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes’ home at the time her portrait was painted. More certainly and importantly, the building beside the couple is a domestic residence on a street along a Seine quai, seen from across the river. The location explains the distance of the scene, the height of the wall, why the couple appears on top of the wall, and why a building rises from their level, a street’s width behind them.

The realism of the window scene urges a reversal of its view, which allows us to identify the portrait’s foreground space. Along the same angle of vision from which we look out the window across the Seine, but backwards, we look from the corner of the quai Malaquais and the rue des Saints Pères towards the Galerie of the Louvre. Taking into account the height represented and the size of the window, the foreground space represents an apartment inside the Louvre, with a view through its window across the Seine. We must be looking at one of the lodgings granted to artists there. If we believe the precision with which Olivier Merson described the allocation of the Galerie lodgings, according, he claimed, to first-person witness accounts, then the foreground of the 1801 portrait represents the lodgings of Jean-Baptiste Regnault. In those lodgings, with a window onto the Seine, Regnault ran a studio for women artists, managed by his wife Sophie Meyer.[18] It might seem improbable that we are looking at Regnault’s studio for women in the Met portrait. Yet several kinds of evidence converge to confirm the painting’s setting.[19]

We must be looking at a professional studio. Many contemporary paintings of women artists at work insist on domestic settings (like Martin Drolling’s ca. 1810 Interior with View of Saint-Eustache in the Musée Carnavalet). They represent rooms filled with draperies, musical instruments, potted plants, porcelains, and bibelots: all, by comparison, notably absent from the Met portrait. We should see in its bare window and wall not an expedient elimination of detail, but rather the way dedicated studio windows and walls looked. Luckily, we do have another picture of a studio in the Louvre Galerie lodgings. In 1808, a student of Adelaïde Labille-Guiard recreated from memory a picture of her dead teacher at work (with herself assisting) in a room with a big window and bare walls very similar to those in the Met portrait. It is titled Madame Vincent in Her Studio Painting J. M. Vien, accurately in light of the fact that Labille-Guiard was able to use the studio because it was part of the lodgings in the Louvre Galerie awarded to her husband, the painter François-André Vincent. Furthermore, one remarkable memoir of the Regnault studio has come down to us, by Albertine Clément.[20] She recalls the bare walls of the studio, and a large window with a view of the Seine.

Clément’s memoir describes the portrait’s studio setting, and what is happening in it. The most emotional passages of the memoir recall friendship among students, and exchanges of favors. It should be pointed out here that Clément had been a revolutionary women’s rights advocate, who in 1801, the very year the Met portrait was shown at the Salon, had published, under the name Albertine Clément-Hémery, Les Femmes vengées de la sottise d’un philosophe du jour, ou réponse au projet de loi de M.S**.M***, portant défense d’apprendre à lire aux femmes. Apparently Clément felt as strongly about women learning to paint as learning to read, because in her studio memoirs, she described how women in the studio often posed for each other. Fervently, she recalled how the most gifted women asked the less talented women (such as herself) to model for them: “But who would have resisted such flattering appeals from those angels, ceaselessly saying to me: ‘Pose for me. You can’t refuse to listen to me, you’re so pretty.’”[21] The admiration among students was mutual. Clément remembered one woman who painted her: “Among all of them shone, like a pearl left by a May dew on our emerald prairies, Adèle Tornezy; there was magic in her elegant and graceful figure, poetry in her refined and witty gaze.”[22]

Around 1801, a significant number of ambitious portraits encoded comparable clues about their sitters. It was almost a new portrait type, adapted from the tradition of the noble full-length state portrait. Instead of identifying sitters with emblems of monarchic or aristocratic power, these modern portraits required viewers to decipher contemporary clues with the latest knowledge about fashion, politics, money, and sexuality.

Among the first publicly noticed of these enigmatic portraits was one by François Gérard of the artist Jean-Baptiste Isabey and his daughter. Shown in the Salon of 1796, it was praised for achieving something more than accurately recording a person’s facial features. A “genre portrait,” it was called. Father and daughter are possibly pictured in a staircase of the Louvre.[23]. The most daring “genre” or clue-portraits in the years immediately preceding 1801 were Girodet’s Salon of 1799 Portrait of Mlle Lange as Danaë, his 1797 Citoyen Belley, also shown in the Salon of 1799, and his Salon of 1800 Portrait de Benoit-Agnes Trioson, dit Ruhehaus, ou Ruoz. These three portraits addressed issues of, respectively, sexuality, race, and childhood, issues as topical as professional women artists.

Nor is the Met portrait the only one of its time to use a window-scene of a building as a clue. In 1799, Gérard used a window in his double portrait of Madame and Mademoiselle Morel-Vindé to show a building that was probably built by Monsieur Morel-Vindé, in the wild real estate speculation that characterized the Directoire and Consulat. In 1800, Louis-André-Gabriel Bouchet portrayed Jean-Antoine Chaptal with a window scene showing the lucrative factory he had founded.

Considering all these circumstances, I think it safe to say that the subject of the Met portrait is an art student in a professional studio, with a view onto a traditional feminine scene of a couple and a home.[24] The subject might well be Charlotte du Val d’Ognes in Regnault’s studio being painted by Marie-Denise Villers, with a view onto her own residence, but it doesn’t have to be, any more than the particulars in other enigma portraits had to be for their basic issue of modern identity to be evident. It must have been fun to know, for example, when looking at Gérard’s portrait of Isabey and his daughter, who he was, and how, by 1798, the portrait’s austere setting contrasted with his opulent studio in his Louvre lodgings, decorated by Percier and Fontaine. But it wasn’t necessary to have that degree of insider knowledge to recognize the portrait’s less secret message about a modern dual role of fashion-star and father. All it took was his outfit (those boots, those ribbons under the knee!) and the child’s trusting hand. The Met portrait presents another modern dual possibility: a woman who is an artist and has a private life. We can imagine that the woman drawing has just glanced away from the personal scene, or that she ignores it while working. Either way, the author of the painting has put us, the viewer, in a position to see two aspects of an identity simultaneously.


Creative women at work inside and outside the Louvre

The Louvre, more than any other place, made the duality we see in the Met portrait possible. There, by accident, women were able to dare the most revolutionary artistic ambitions while behaving like conventionally feminine mothers, wives, daughters, or young ladies.

Women did both work and lead personal lives in the Louvre. Ancien-régime work patterns made no distinction in the lodgings awarded to artists in the Louvre between domestic and studio functions. Artists were free to adapt the spaces they had been allocated. Notoriously, they carved new spaces within huge old volumes, erected partitions, and redecorated. There were no hard boundaries between where members of a family lived and where they worked. Members of a family, male and female, could work together. Women could work in spaces allocated to male family members, as the later picture of Labille-Guiard suggests. Men could also take advantage of their lodgings’ dual functions to create safe spaces to train women who were not in their families. Resident mothers, wives, sisters, or daughters could chaperone young women. The familial capacity in which women ostensibly occupied the Louvre permitted the most conventionally maternal chaperoning, even if they were accomplished artists and were training women at a professional level.

Sensing an alarming new attraction of women to modern, professional careers in painting, a decree of 1785 reminded everyone in the Louvre that women were not to be trained in studios with men, or to be present in the Louvre for lessons unless they were living there with family or as boarders. In 1787, the comte d’Angiviller accused David and Joseph-Benoît Suvée of having women students (as Jean-Baptiste Greuze seems to have had earlier). David replied that he had only supervised three students while their real teacher, a woman, Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, was remodeling her studio. The women students, he argued, were in a studio that was safe because it was supervised by Madame David: “they are absolutely far away from my students’ studio, to which they have no access, and which it is impossible for them to access.”[25] The women students were “prisoners in a way,” which guaranteed their “irreproachable morals.” In a personal post-script to David, d’Angiviller elaborated: “there must be no young ladies who go take lessons with [male] artists… if the demoiselles were boarding with you, that would be different, because they would be like your children.” Similarly, Suvée, in response to the warning that he “appears to us to have offered a regular course to young ladies,” defended himself with the language of family:

They are entrusted to the wisdom of my wife; they keep her company; she keeps them under her eye as if they were her own children. Her own painting talent makes it possible for her to instruct them in their art, just as the gentleness of her morals molds their hearts. [26]

By the 1790s, Suvée openly ran a studio for women, as Regnault did. Yet both studios were still chaperoned by wives. Years later, in her memoir, Clément was still using the language of family when she remembered the role of Madame Regnault, constantly present and treating the students as if they were her daughters.

The corporatism of the Louvre lodgings guaranteed that women in a wide variety of artistic roles were present at all times in its spaces. Mary Sheriff has pointed out the irony that when Labille-Guiard was petitioning for lodgings in the Louvre, there were already women artists living there, notably Anna Vallayer-Coster, as well as the wives, daughters, and mothers of artists. [27] What I would add is that many of those women, though not artists in the modern sense of the term, were artists in an older sense, including wives who worked anonymously with their husbands, like Regnault’s and Suvée’s, as if in an artisanal family enterprise. It surprises us today that artisans like Robin, horloger du roi, were granted Louvre lodgings. But as holdovers from a time when the artistic status of a peintre and an horloger were not so different, it makes perfect sense. Did Robin’s wife work with him? Probably. Did she work in a way that blurred boundaries between domestic and professional roles? Almost certainly. Merson tells us that Roland wanted to give David the joaillier (jeweler) Ménière’s logement in 1792, “les arts seuls devant loger au Louvre” (as only the arts should inhabit the Louvre). Habits, however, persisted. Ménière simply didn’t leave. Labille-Guiard had trouble getting a logement in the Louvre on her own, but she had no trouble living there as Madame Vincent.

Two conceptual regimes co-existed. In the very halls that had for so long guaranteed the authority of the Académie with their royal palatial status, artists demanded and implemented revolutionary reforms. Until 1805, the Louvre lodgings kept women in the midst of the art world’s most radical changes. Nicholas Mirzoeff has shown the uneasy relationship between women artists’ demands for equal professional rights and men’s factional demands for the abolition of old art institutions; many among even the most left-wing men resisted women’s demands.[28] Despite these setbacks, women witnessed the opening of the Salons to women—held right next door in the Louvre—the abolition of the Académie, and the stylistic shift of some of David’s students beyond their master’s neoclassicism to a more “primitive” style that claimed to go back to purer, more ancient Greek sources. In 1793, the Louvre’s Grande Galerie became, arguably, the first modern museum, right above the level of the Louvre wing that housed Regnault’s studio. As Hubert Robert’s 1796 painting of the Grande Galerie pointedly proclaimed, the museum was open to women (admittedly, on a restricted basis, which Robert cleverly masked).[29] Suddenly, women who worked in the Louvre had direct spatial access to the greatest possible collection. In 1799, David inaugurated the modern practice of the profit-making studio exhibition, with his display of his Sabine Women. Carle Vernet, Isabey, and Regnault quickly followed David’s example, in their own Louvre studios.

Right outside the Louvre during the Directoire and Consulat, in the Tuileries gardens, on the Champs Elysées, and in the Palais Royal, a fashion revolution was taking place. Some sense of the female Merveilleuses and male Incroyables parading in the Tuileries is given by the Journal des dames et des modes plate no. 397 (Fig. 6). In Year X, the magazine summarized what had happened.

Whatever moral and political revolutions may be, costume is always the last part of custom that a people agree to abandon… This great revolution didn’t happen suddenly. The Greek tunic and belt once adopted, the corset and petticoat required retention for a long while. They alleged in their defense long habit, health, modesty. Vain effort! [Corsets and petticoats] have fallen forever. Who could resist the graceful undulations of this long dress that, with marvelous flirtation, successively covers and uncovers, emphasizes the body and conceals it, reveals charms and steals them away! [30]

From the point of view of women, it was the most liberating change in the entire history of dress. As every contemporary witness realized at the time, women shed any constriction and repudiated all ornament to gain an unprecedented degree of physical freedom.

According to Clément, the women in Regnault’s studio split their time between painting and fashion. She fondly recalled how beautifully dressed many of the women in the studio were, and how radically. Tornézy, who Clément called the pearl, invented new Grecian looks and enlisted her studio friends to parade them in public. She was especially good with ribbons, Clément remembered. The Regnault students were all thrilled when the Tuileries and Champs Elysées were packed with imitators by the very next week.

Scholars of this remarkable episode in the history of style have demonstrated many facets of its empowering effect on women, and its often terrifying effect on men: from the leading roles of Beauharnais, Tallien, and Récamier to the impact on David’s representation of women. The Met portrait, illuminated by Clément’s memoir, adds a reminder of how active women art students were in the goût grec, and how deeply it affected their self-image. When the sitter and the author of the Met portrait decided on the hairstyle, dress, accessories, and chair it would depict (who knows which one had how much responsibility for those choices), they made a proud statement about both sorts of creative work accomplished in the Regnault studio. In that sense, too, the portrait shows the possibility of a woman playing more than one role. The artist at work can also be a fashion maven.


The fundamental issue for a woman intellectual

The issue of a double identity at the heart of the Met portrait was the most fundamental issue faced by all revolutionary women intellectuals. Could they be both professional women, and traditionally feminine? As the 1790s debate over equal rights for women painters vividly shows, this was the single most important issue at the top level of the visual arts. To understand the magnitude of what the Met portrait is about, we have to realize that all the most radical women intellectuals of the revolutionary era were trying to respond to the same basic challenge.

On every intellectual front, women’s arguments that they could be both feminine and intellectuals only gained momentum after 1795. In a strictly political sense, a battle for women’s rights had already begun to be lost when the Constitution of 1795 officially excluded women from citizenship. 1795 was also the year in which the government founded the Institut to protect French arts and letters, and excluded women from it. Yet women only became culturally bolder after the Terror. In fashion, painting, and literature, the strongest statements about women’s rights were yet to be made. A contributor to the Journal des dames et des modes in the Year X exclaimed in surprise at women’s involvement in all the arts:

A young poet who had just arrived in Paris was very surprised, on his first day, to find, on all the Paris Parnassus roads, only women: at the Lycée de Paris, a lecture by Madame **** was announced, Madame H**** was conducting an experiment at the Lycée des Arts; the Libraire Maradan was selling a novel by Madame C***, and the Comediens Français were staging a play by Madame B****. [31]

A few women had become successful professionals in the 1780s, and many women had been quietly acquiring expressive skills. In the realm of painting, Vigée Lebrun, notably, had built a phenomenally successful career, had influenced many younger women, and may have been partly responsible for introducing corset-less white cotton dresses to Parisian society.[32] Dena Goodman has argued that many eighteenth-century women writers acquired a sense of self long before the Revolution through the practice of letter-writing.[33] But it was not until the Directoire and Consulat years that the principle of women’s rights to intellectual careers exploded in the public domain. Carla Hesse has calculated that the sheer number of women who published books escalated dramatically during and after the Revolution. Faced with the task of finding an ethical basis for revolutionary freedom and equality, Hesse says, women turned to literature, because it was political philosophy by other means.[34]

In 1800, the literary celebrity Germaine de Staël published De la littérature. Its fourth chapter was devoted to “Des femmes qui cultivent les lettres.” Staël believed the welfare of republics might depend on women’s education. Equal education for women and men could become the foundation for rational social and political relationships.[35] Literary women, wrote Staël, anticipated this republican future: “’Everything is so true to life in such novels that we have no trouble persuading ourselves that everything could happen just this way—not as past history, but often, it seems, as the history of the future.”[36] The problem was to reconcile the instruction of women with traditional domestic femininity. The answer was a dual feminine identity, intellectual and feminine, visionary and conventional.

“One of the most striking features of women’s writing during the revolution, and especially during the post-Thermidorean era,” writes Hesse, “is the abundance of feminine figures of a doubled self—at once private and public.[37] To back up her assertion, she cites the lesser-known Constance Pipelet’s Rapport sur un ouvrage intitulé ‘De la Condition des femmes dans la république’, published in 1799:

There are two beings in a woman, as there are in a man: the first is a moral being, free in essence, knowing no law except its own morality, and having no sex; the second, is a physical being, dependent on man in the same way that man is dependent on woman… This ingenious distinction throws a clear light upon perpetual contradictions. [38]

Pipelet explicitly included women artists in her rousing 1797 Épître aux Femmes. She wrote: “But already thousands condemn our courage/They are shocked. They whisper, they are unnerved, they heckle/They want to take our pens and our paintbrushes away.”[39]

With what visual means could painters represent the “two beings” Staël and Pipelet expressed in words? A self-portrait by a woman at work was a valiant start. During this period, many aspiring women painters, among them Adèle Romany, Henriette Lorimier, Constance Meyer, and Pauline Auzou, represented themselves at work in studios. Together, these self-portraits constitute a collective testimonial to an unprecedented moment in the history of art. What makes the Met portrait more visually powerful than most self-portraits of women at work is that it translates into visual terms the double self of which Staël and Pipelet dreamed. The device of the window scene allows us to see public and private selves simultaneously: the woman who trains professionally, and the woman attached to male partner and home. Even more visually, it uses form to express the duality of its subject.


Dual forms

The Met portrait oscillates our gaze between the two options it represents. While the large figure in its shallow foreground dominates the picture, our eye is drawn to the small couple and home by the window’s frame, by the angle of the portfolio, and by the curious representation of a crack in one glass pane. Interpretations of the crack could be many, but in any case the crack draws attention to the couple and the home by arcing over them. Most dynamically, our gaze is swung back and forth between foreground and window scene by the abrupt discrepancy in their scales.

Only a knowledge of perspective allows us to perceive the two spaces as being spatially consistent. In this image of a woman painter, it is a visual device that turns potentially incompatible realities into two parts of one reality. Furthermore, the only part of the composition that connects the two realms represented in the portrait is the shape of the drawing portfolio, held by the artist’s curled fingers. The instrument of art creates a slot between two worlds. Its shape, so prominently at the very center of the composition, is a trapezoid, which is how perspective slants a rectangle.

Perspective was a professional painting skill acquired through training. Its use in the portrait was certainly a demonstration of professional skill. I believe the Met portrait lays claim to a professional identity by demonstrating the device of perspective in a general sense, and in a specific one as well. The design of the portrait, so dependent on perspective, in some crucial ways closely resembles allegories of perspective.[40] Collections of allegories, called “iconologies,were published at regular intervals throughout the eighteenth century. A 1766 Iconologie announced the intended elite intellectual audience of such books: “Ouvrage Utile aux Gens de Lettres, aux Poëtes, aux Artistes, & généralement à tous les Amateurs des Beaux-Arts.”[41] In such books, a standard entry was “Perspective.” Perspective was routinely represented by a large woman holding art materials, with a small scene or object in a corner. An extreme discrepancy between two spaces demonstrated how perspective worked (Figs 8 and 9).

LEFT: Fig. 8. Jean-Baptiste Boudard, "Perspective," Iconologie Tirée de divers auteurs. Ouvrage Utile aux Gens de Letters, aux Poëtes, aux artistes, & généralement à tous les Amateurs des Beaux-Arts, vol. 3 (Vienna: Jean-Thomas de Trattnern, 1766), 60. Collection: Avery Library, Columbia University. RIGHT: Fig. 9. Gravelot [Hubert-François Bourguignon] and Charles Nicolas Cochin, "Perspective," Fig. 15 in Iconologie par figures; ou traité complet des allégories emblèmes etc. à l’usage des artistes, en 350 figures, vol. 4, 1772 (Geneva: Minkoff, 1972). Collection: Avery Library, Columbia University.

LEFT: Fig. 8. Jean-Baptiste Boudard, “Perspective,” Iconologie Tirée de divers auteurs. Ouvrage Utile aux Gens de Letters, aux Poëtes, aux artistes, & généralement à tous les Amateurs des Beaux-Arts, vol. 3 (Vienna: Jean-Thomas de Trattnern, 1766), 60. Collection: Avery Library, Columbia University.

RIGHT: Fig. 9. Gravelot [Hubert-François Bourguignon] and Charles Nicolas Cochin, “Perspective,” Fig. 15 in Iconologie par figures; ou traité complet des allégories emblèmes etc. à l’usage des artistes, en 350 figures, vol. 4, 1772 (Geneva: Minkoff, 1972). Collection: Avery Library, Columbia University.

The text accompanying the 1766 example explains that it represents “a woman… looking through glass at a distant object, all of whose lines tangential to her eye form rays that provide points used to trace this object perspectivally on the surface of the glass.” [42] In the Met portrait, distant objects also appear through glass, thanks to imaginary perspective projections. Perspective is powerful knowledge, the Iconologies inform us. Textually, perspective is called the most scientific and mathematical aspect of painting. Visually, perspective is represented by sight lines that cross through matter. Is this why the pane of glass is broken in the Met portrait? Are perspective rays powerful enough to break glass?

If the Met portrait refers to allegories of Perspective, and I think it does, it has overcome a formidable obstacle, because it is a portrait, and not an allegory. Going from allegory to portrait only required the artist to take allegories of Perspective literally. After all, the allegorical figures were female. The texts of both 1766 and 1772 Iconologies, moreover, both called the figures they showed “a woman.”[43] Taking allegories literally, however, was not so easy. A woman in Regnault’s studio need have looked no further than along the Louvre corridor to Isabey’s studio. Percier and Fontaine had decorated the studio wallpaper with allegories of Painting and Sculpture whose figures were female, and still it was a bonding space for male artists, as Boilly’s 1798 group portrait of artists in the studio makes abundantly clear. Régis Michel has shown how Boilly’s portrait expressed the modern, anti-Academic, egalitarian, and individualist qualities with which a young generation of male artists identified.[44] As Ewa Lajer-Burcharth responded, contrasting the female allegories visible in Boilly’s painting with the portraits of men below, there was a limit to the revolutionary modernity of the new generation of male artists.  Whatever else they wanted to change, they were not willing to change the status of women in the arts from allegory to actuality. [45]

Nonetheless, within months of the Met portrait’s exhibition in the Salon, an imitation of it appeared in the Journal des dames et des modes as plate no. 378, titled “Bonnet du Matin” (Fig. 10). The bonnet and a short-waisted jacket had been added, the window scene subtracted. Oil painting and colored print figures, however, are identically posed, both holding drawing portfolios and lead-holders. Same chair, same shawl, same white dress, same colors but redistributed: blue shawl instead of pink, pink upholstery instead of blue. Evidently, though women artists were not being taken quite seriously by the artists in Isabey’s orbit, they had become a bit fashionable by the Year X (and Year XI; see Fig. 2).

Fig. 10. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 378, Journal des dames et des modes, Year X. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by Susan Wager.

Fig. 10. Costume Parisien, Plate no. 378, Journal des dames et des modes, Year X. Collection: Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. Photograph by Susan Wager.

Aesthetically, the borrowing went both ways. “Bonnet du Matin” repeats the aspects of the Met portrait that were already most like a fashion plate. Comparison helps us notice the simplicity of the portrait’s color, volumes, and surface composition. One long strip of pale yellow across a brown slab, for instance, indicates light on the window frame; bars of pink shades make the loop of the ribbon bow. The rectangular canvas surface has been divided into four equal quadrants, one of which is the window; the figure with her portfolio is aligned along the surface’s two intersecting diagonals. In a climate of continuing indifference, or even hostility, on the part of men’s official or unofficial painting institutions, the Met portrait’s author has had recourse to forms directed at female audiences, or forms easily identified with femininity, as in the title Journal des dames et des modes.

The forms of the fashion plate made for easy painting, but they did difficult work with time. To justify a radical abstraction of form, all aspects of the goût grec, or the goût étrusque, invoked a return to origins. It was a style revolution in every sense, in which the newest claimed to cycle back to the oldest. Here we are brought right back to the identification of the fashionable items in the Met portrait. They are hyper-fashionable, hyper-new, because they refer to the most archaic Greek precedents, and do so by being reduced to a formal essence. Even among objects of their sorts, furthermore, the things in the Met portrait are consistently extreme.

The hairstyle, for instance, just natural curls pulled back, can be found in fashion plates, and also in a book such as Nicolas Xavier Willemin’s Choix de Costumes civils et militaires des peuples de l’antiquité. Costumes des peuples de l’Europe. Troisième partie. Les Grecs. Coiffures et ornements de tête des femmes (1798-1802). In Willemin’s text, an incantation of archaic vocabulary invokes a distant past: “The ornaments of a woman’s head are the miter, the ampyx, the cecryphale, the tiara, the anadème, the strophos, the kredemnon, the cheiromactres, the tholia, the calyptra.”[46] Yet the text also uses a citation with living details about smell and color: “so that your hair scented with perfumes does not dirty your light purple bands, let a pin hold and gather your loose hair.”[47]

The chair was derived from the most linear, distilled English “Etruscan” neo-classicism. Its swooping shape, with a single arc back-rail and continuous side line from back into posterior sabre legs, was scrupulously imitated from ancient Greek models by Josiah Wedgwood’s pioneer designer John Flaxman, modeled in 1778 and put onto Wedgwood china by 1787.[48] The version in the portrait, unpainted, uncarved, and armless, is as uncompromising as it could be.

Similarly, the dress is absolutely white, adorned by one solid ribbon. Its style was perceived as a reduction of clothing to nothing, an attitude conveyed by a Year VII article in the Journal des dames et des modes with the rhetoric of elimination.

Fashion, after exhausting its resources by infinitely varying women’s costume, after successively removing from them hats, hair, scarves, false hips, bustles, frippery, petticoats, etc. has left them nothing but their slips. The news tells us that some women don’t even wear those. [49]

The outer garment in the portrait is only an utterly blank rectangle of pink cloth. The hair-pin is so much simpler than any pin in contemporary portraits or fashion plates (compare it for instance to the “arrow” and “comb” in Fig. 2) that it looks like a hybrid between a pin and a classical stylus. Everything has been brought back to a starting point.

It is with an aesthetic of return and beginning, simultaneously archaic and contemporary, that the Met portrait has alloyed allegory and actuality. Whoever made the portrait was in the right place at the right time: in the Louvre, looking through a Louvre studio window toward home, during a fashion revolution. This is not to discount what transcends the portrait’s circumstances, its setting, and its ties to allegories of Perspective and fashion plates. The lesson details of book illustrations and the simple flatness of fashion plates are transformed into grandeur by the portrait’s scale. A white-gold light radiates from behind the figure, glows through her curls, concentrates on the tip of her hair-pin, crests along the rim of the portfolio. Only in such a magic light could anyone dream that art might begin all over again, and see the “history of the future.”

Anne Higonnet is Professor of Art History at Barnard College, Columbia University, NY


[1] So many books and essays cover these fields that it would be impossible to do justice to all of them.  Most recently, Séverine Sofio has surveyed the history of women artists from a sociological angle:  Artistes femmes: la parenthèse enchantée XVIIIe-XIXe siècles (Paris: CNRS éditions, 2016).  The notes to her book provide an excellent way into the context of the Met portrait.  See also the recent collection of essays: Mechthild Fend, Melissa Hyde, and Anne Lafont, eds., Plumes et pinceaux. Discours des femmes sur l’art en Europe (1750-1850) (Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2012).

[2] Maurice Tourneux, “L’exposition des portraits de femmes et d’enfants à l’école des beaux-arts,” Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 17 (June 1897), 457-458.

[3] Metropolitan Museum of Art, painting department dossier 17.120.204 I [hereafter Met dossier].

[4] André Maurois, J.-L. David. Les demi-dieux” (Paris: Editions du Dimanche, 1948), np. “Dès qu’il était devant un modèle, et non plus abandonné à l’imagination qu’il n’avait pas, ou à l’érudition qu’il croyait avoir, il oubliait ses funestes théories…. le plus étonnant des portraits de femmes est celui de Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, portrait dur d’une laide intelligente, contre-jour noyé d’ombre et de mystère, qui se trouve au Metropolitan Museum de New York. La lumière entre à travers une vitre fêlée. Les couleurs ont la finesse et la rareté de celles de Vermeer. Tableau parfait, inoubliable.”

[5] Letter from Charles Stirling to Harry Bordeaux, November 7, 1947 (Met dossier). Charles Stirling. “A Fine ‘David’ Reattributed,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (January 1951), 121, 123-132.

[6] Theodore Rousseau, “A Guide to the Picture Galleries,” in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Part II (January 1954), 6.

[7] Bernard Berenson, Piero della Francesca or The Ineloquent in Art (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1954), 31.

[8] Karen Petersen and J.J. Wilson, Women Artists; Recognition and Reappraisal from the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1976), 61.

[9] Letter from Margaret Oppenheimer to Gary Tinterow, June 16, 1995. Met dossier.  Margaret A. Oppenheimer, “Nisa Villers, née Lemoine (1774-1821),” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 127 (April 1996), 166, 170-172, 176.

[10] Susan Siegfried, “The Visual Culture of Fashion and the Classical Ideal in Post-Revolutionary France,” Art Bulletin 97:1 (2015), 77-99.

[11] Annemarie Kleinert, Le « Journal des Dames et des Modes » ou la conquête de l’Europe féminine, 1797-1839 (Beihefte der Francia, 46), (Stuttgart: Thorbecke) 2001; Heather Belnap Jensen, “The Journal des Dames et des Modes: Fashioning Women in the Arts, c. 1800-1815,” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, 5:1 (Spring 2006).

[12] Several scholars, including Susan Siegfried, have explored women’s Directoire and Consulat fashion culture (e.g. Siegfried, “The Visual Culture of Fashion”). See also Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Necklines (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, “Nudity à la grecque in 1799,” Art Bulletin 80:2 (June 1998), 311-335; Claire Cage, “The Sartorial Self, Neo-Classical Fashion and Gender Identity in France, 1797- 1804,” Eighteenth Century Studies 42:2 (Winter 2009), 192-215; Christina Barreto and Martin Lancaster, Napoléon et l’Empire de la Mode (Milan: Skira, 2010); Amy Freund, “The Citoyenne Tallien: Women, Politics and Portraiture during the French Revolution,” Art Bulletin 93:3 (September 2011), 325-344.

[13] “Le rose est encore la couleur dominante,” Journal des dames et des modes, an X, 120.

[14] Madeleine Jarry, Le siège en France du Moyen Age à nos jours (Paris: Hartmann, 1948), pl. 257; Marie-Noëlle de Grandry, Le Mobilier Français, Directoire Consulat Empire (Paris: Massin, 1996), 35; Denise Ledoux-Lebard, Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle (Paris: Les Editions de l’Amateur, 2000), 283.

[15] “Tous les élégan(t)s sont en frac gros bleu, brun foncé, ou noir. La forme de ce frac n’a pas changé depuis plusieurs mois.  Ce ne sont pas seulement les gilets écarlattes, à liserts d’or, qui ont la partie inférieure taillée en veste parisienne, on donne la même forme aux gilets blanc, et ils n’ont, comme les gilets écarlattes, qu’un seul rang de boutons. Les jabots plissés à plis ronds sont presque généralement adoptés.” Journal des dames et des modes 40, 6e année, 20 Germinal, an X, 320.

[16] Plan de Turgot, 1739. See also Plan de Jaillot, 1775. The Seine river creates the same distance between buildings on its two banks as the distance rendered in the window scene; some—not many—portions of the river banks were lined with grey stone walls; the further distance between the couple and the building is explained by the streets that ran alongside the quais; and there is one corner along a quai street with a building façade of the same height as the one in the window scene. One view from across the Seine—which can actually be experienced today, though interrupted by the trees that were not there in 1801—produces an empty space above the quai wall where the street and the quai meet, next to a façade which from that point of view makes the building’s sloping roof invisible. According to Hillairet’s Dictionnaire Historique des rues de Paris, the building on the west corner of the quai Malaquais and the rue des Saints Pères had been built in 1640 by François Mansart. Renovated in the middle of the eighteenth century, it was an auxiliary building of the nearby Hôtel de la Bazinière, called the Petit Hôtel Chimay. The Petit Hôtel Chimay used to be more separate from nearby buildings than it now is.

[17] Two accounts reinforce each other. One is a letter from a descendant of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes to the Met paintings department (now in the Met dossier). It says that Charlotte lived on the “quai Malaquais.” The other, implying the information came from Charlotte’s grandson—“paraît-il”—dates to the painting’s first public appearance, in 1897, and claims Charlotte lived on the “rue de Lille” with a view onto the Palais Bourbon. (Tourneux, “L’exposition des portraits de femmes,” 457-458.)  According to eighteenth-century maps of Paris, one building complex did in fact take up a lot bounded by the rue de Lille (then named the rue de Bourbon) on the south, the rue des Saints Pères on the west, and the quai Malaquais at its intersection with the rue des Saints Pères, and therefore could have had a view onto the Palais Bourbon.

[18] Olivier Merson, “Les logements d’artistes au Louvre à la fin du XVIIIe siècle,” Gazette des beaux-arts 23 (1881), 264-270. For another interpretation of the relationship between male teachers and female students, see Séverine Sofio, “La vocation comme subversion; artistes femmes et anti-académisme dans la France révolutionnaire,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 3:168 (2007), 34-49.

[19] An identification of the setting as Regnault’s studio for women is compatible with the probability that Villers is the author of the Met portrait, and du Val d’Ognes its subject. Admittedly, Villers was said by a Salon critic to have taken lessons with Girodet, and du Val d’Ognes’ descendants believed she had studied with David. Girodet, however, did not regularly run a studio for women until 1817, and David never ran a regular studio for women, though he gave many women lessons. Neither male artist systematically kept records of the women to whom they gave lessons, and neither woman appears in the records they did keep. Regnault (1754-1829) was a political ally of David’s, and we do know of at least one case in which a woman David taught, Angelique Mongez, trained regularly in the Regnault studio, which according to Clément-Hemery, actually meant that she worked in Madame Regnault’s studio for women. (See Margaret Fields Denton, “A Women’s Place: The Gendering of Genres in Post-Revolutionary French Painting,” Art History 21:2 (June 1998), 219-46.) Perhaps the du Val d’Ognes descendants, when wishful thinking led them to believe the Met portrait was by David, automatically assumed he must have been Charlotte’s teacher because she is pictured at work.

[20] Madame Clément née Hémery [Albertine Clément-Hémery], Souvenirs de 1793 et 1794 (Cambrai: Des Presses de Lesne-Daloin, 1832).

[21] “Mais qui aurait résisté aux prières si flatteuses de ces têtes d’anges, me disant sans cesse. –Pose pour moi.  –Tu ne peux me refuser ton oreille, elle est si jolie.” Clément, Souvenirs, 20.

[22] “Entre toutes brillait, comme la perle que l’aube du mois de Mai dépose sur l’émeraude de nos prairies, Adèle Tornezy: il y avait dans la magie dans son élégante et gracieuse tournure, de la poésie, dans son regard fin et spirituel.” Clément, Souvenirs, 5.

[23] Régis Michel, “L’art des salons,” in Philippe Bordes and Régis Michel, eds., Aux armes et aux arts; les arts de la Révolution, 1789-1799 (Paris: Adam Biro, 1988), 66-68.

[24] A compatible variation would be that the portrait is actually a self-portrait, perhaps shown in the Salon of 1799 (and again in 1801), a possibility currently advanced by the Met’s online collection catalogue, following Oppenheimer, “Nisa Villers.”  If so, it could be possible to explain that the painting originally went into the du Val d’Ognes family collection because Charlotte was a fellow-student of Villers’s and the window scene represented Charlotte’s Paris home. Charlotte’s descendants, however, were convinced the portrait represented her, as they repeatedly wrote in letters to the Met, but it is true that Charlotte died in 1868, almost twenty years before the portrait was first publicly exhibited.

[25] “Elles sont absoluments éloignées de l’attelier [sic] de mes élèves, avec lequel elles n’ont aucune communication, et avec lequel il est impossible qu’elles communiquent.”  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), 395.

[26] “En quelque sorte prisonnières… moeurs irréprochables… qu’il n’y auroit [sic] point de jeunes personnes qui allassent prendre des leçons chez les artistes…. si les demoiselles étoient en pension chez vous, cela seroit différent, car ce seroit comme vos enfants…. nous paraît avoir tenu un cours régulier de jeunes filles. .. Elles sont confiés à la sagesse de mon épouse; ells [sic] font sa société; elle les regarde comme ses propres enfants sans cesse sous ses yeux. Son talent dans la peinture la met à même de les instruire dans leur art, comme la douceur de ses moeurs à former leur coeur.” Guiffrey, “Écoles de demoiselles,” 397.

[27] Mary D. Sheriff, “Jacques-Louis David and the Ladies,” in Dorothy Johnson, ed., Jacques-Louis David: New Perspectives, (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006).

[28] Nicholas Mirzoeff, “Revolution, Representation, Equality: Gender, Genre, and Emulation in the Académie Royale de la Peinture et Sculpture, 1785-93,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 31:2 (Winter 1997-98), 153-74. On Labille-Guiard’s leading role, see Laura Auricchio, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard; Artist in the Age of Revolution (Los Angles: Getty Publications, 2009).

[29] Frédérique Baumgartner, Transformation of the Cultural Experience. The Art of Hubert Robert during the French Revolution (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2011).

[30] “Quelles que puissent être les révolutions morales et politiques, les costumes sont toujours la dernière partie des usages qu’un peuple consent à abandoner…  Cette grande révolution ne s’est point operée subitement. La tunique et la ceinture grècque une fois adoptées, le corset et le jupon septentrional solliciterent long-tems leur conservation. Ils alléguaient pour leur défense le long usage, la santé, la modestie. Vaine tentative! [Corsets and petticoats] sont tombés pour jamais. Comment resister aux ondulations gracieuses de cette robe longue qui, avec une merveilleuse coquetterie, couvre successivement et découvre, accuse le nu et le dissimule, révèle les charmes et les dérobe!” “De quelques Vicissitudes dans les Costumes,” “Bulletin de Paris,” Journal des dames et des modes 7 (7e année), 5 Brumaire, an XI, 50-52.

[31] “Un jeune poète arrivé à Paris fut tout surpris, le premier jour de son arrivée, de ne rencontrer, sur toutes les routes du Parnasse parisien, que des femmes: on annonçait, au Lycée de Paris, une lecture par Mad. ****; Mad. H**** faisait une experience au Lycée des Arts; le Libraire Maradan mettoit en vente le roman de Mad. C.****; enfin, les Comédiens français donnaient un drame de mad. B****.” Journal des dames et des modes 42 (6e année), 30 Germinal an X.

[32] See Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman; Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996).

[33] Dena Goodman, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

[34] Carla Hesse, The Other Enlightenment: How French Women Became Modern (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 145.

[35]Germaine de Staël, De la littérature [1800] (Paris: Flammarion, 1991), 338.

[36] Hesse, The Other Enlightenment, 145, quoting de Staël’s Essay on Fictions (1795), 73, from Vivian Folkenflick, An Extraordinary Woman: Selected Writings of Germaine de Staël (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).

[37] Hesse, The Other Enlightenment, 140.

[38] From Constance Pipelet, Ouvrage divers en prose, suivi de mes soixantes ans par Mme la Princesse de Salm (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1835) vol. 2, 149-150, in Hesse, The Other Enlightenment, 140-41.

[39] Cited in Hesse, The Other Enlightenment, 134.

[40] Two of my PhD students separately pointed this out to me at the same time: Sarah Schaefer and Susan Wager.

[41] J. B. Boudard, Iconologie Tirée de divers auteurs. Ouvrage Utile aux Gens de Letters, aux Poëtes, aux artistes, & généralement à tous les Amateurs des Beaux-Arts, vol. III (Vienna: Jean-Thomas de Trattnern, 1766), 60.

[42] “Une femme … regardant à travers d’une glace un objet éloigné, dont toutes les lignes tangentes à son oeil forment des rayons qui donnent les points dont on se sert pour tracer perspectivement cet objet sur la superficie de la glace.” Boudard, Iconologie, 60.

[43] Boudard, Iconologie, 60; H.-F. Gravelot and Charles Nicolas Cochin, Iconologie par figures; ou; traité complet des allégories emblèmes etc. à l’usage des artistes, en 350 figures [1772] (Geneva: Minkoff reprint, 1972), vol. IV, fig. 15.

[44] Michel, “L’art des salons,” 82-84.

[45] Lajer-Burcharth, Necklines, 213-215.

[46] “Les ornements de tête des femmes sont le mitre, l’ampyx, le cecryphale, de diadème, l’anadème, le strophos, le kredemnon, les cheiromactres, la tholia, la calyptra.” Nicolas Xavier Willemin, Choix de Costumes civils et militaries des peuples de l’Antiquité. Costumes des peuples de l’Europe. Troisième partie. Les Grecs. Coiffures et ornements de tête des femmes (Paris: 1789-1802), 71.

[47] “Pour que tes cheveux humectés de parfums ne salissent tes légères bandelettes de pourpre, qu’une aiguille les fixe et rassemble ta chevelure éparse.”  Willemin, Choix de Costumes, 74.

[48] One such Flaxman/Wedgwood chair appears on a pitcher within Adolph Ulrich Wertmüller’s portrait, Madame Aughié, as a Dairymaid in the Royal Dairy of Trianon, 1787 (Stockholm National Museum). Also in 1787, Hubert Robert designed related “etruscan” chairs for Marie-Antoinette’s dairy at Rambouillet, but they were more stylistically conservative than Flaxman/Wedgwood’s.

[49] “La mode, après avoir épuisé ses ressources à varier à l’infini le costume des femmes, après leur avoir ôté successivement chapeaux, cheveux, fichus, fausses anches, panniers, falbalas, jupons etc. ne leur à presque laissé que la chemise.  La chronique assure même que plusieurs de nos dames n’en portent pas.” “Les Voitures,” by C.*** N.*** Journal des dames et des modes 7 (7e année) 5 Brumaire, an XI, 49.


Cite this article as: Anne Higonnet, “Through a Louvre Window,” Journal18, Issue 2 Louvre Local (Fall 2016), DOI: 10.30610/2.2016.7

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