Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Looking Back at Her Life and Art

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was the 18th century French portraitist and is among the most crucial female artists to become a member of Academie de Paris.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard

Somehow, I realized that we could study all the sections on humanities if we compare different historical periods and look more closely at society and reforms. For instance, if we are trying to understand how an artist shaped their career, learning about the environment can help us gain better insights into- how their artworks and inspirations came about. Now, allow me to take you to the eighteenth century, which had an influence on artists through social and political environments, consequently impacting the approach of their paintings. If we talk about France, there was an unprecedented success of women as professional artists because of the new freedom that women achieved, having powerful patrons and reaching a wide audience by exhibiting their paintings at the Salon du Louvre. However, the most crucial reason for their success was the tremendous growth of the portraiture genre. It wasn’t there for some hidden reason to have the beautiful faces painted in any case, but rather to help salvage the image of a failing monarchy and to elevate the status of a growing merchant class. And most importantly, the popularity of portraiture was because of the sense of awareness in French society prompted by the Age of Enlightenment. It was during the mid-19th century that France’s leading intellectuals, the philosophes, challenged longstanding ideologies and proposed a new way of looking at the world that was based on natural law, universal order, and a belief in human reason and scientific investigation. Pamphlets, correspondence, newspapers, and salons spread the philosophers’ ideas throughout French society. Consequently, a reflection of one’s place in the world became more desirable due to concepts such as the rights of the individual and the psychology of the “self”. Hence, the genre was on the rise. During this period, two French female artists who grew insanely because of the genre of portraiture were Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and Vigee Lebrun. Today with this article, we are learning about the life and paintings of one of the contemporaries, Labille-Guiard.

Artist Abstract: Adelaide Labille-Guiard.

Being one of the four female members of the French Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Adélaïde was a famous French artist for her accomplished portraits in pastels and oils. Winning the title of Peintre de mesdames, she painted the surroundings and costumes of the subject perfectly. 

ArtistAdélaïde Labille-Guiard
BirthApril 11, 1749
Famous PaintingsSelf-portrait with her pupils, Louise-Elisabeth with her two-year-old son

Early Life and Training of the Artist.

Born in Paris on April 11, 1749, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was the daughter of Marie-Anne Saint Martin and Claude Edme Labille. During her childhood, she lived on the eastern stretch of the rue Neyve des petits Champs in the parish of Saint Eustache. She lived in a diverse neighbourhood where a community of artists lived for instruction and support. There is the lest information on the early life and education of Labille. Labille could have joined the school of a convent, unlike others, but there are numerous mistakes of spelling and grammatical errors, as we know from her letters. Furthermore, Labille-Guiard’s fascination with matters historical, no matter how basic, lasted her entire life, and her deepest desire was to be a history painter, the grand genre of art. 

When Labille was in her teens in 1763, she started practising under Swiss Protestant miniaturist Francois Elie Vincent, an officer in the Academy of Saint Luke. In addition, she received pastel instruction from Maurice-Quentine de La Tour in 1774, one of the most prominent pastelists at the Royal Academy, whose Louvre studio was just a few blocks from Labille’s residence. 

Just after her brief training, in 1769, when she was twenty, her mother and sister died, and she married Louis N. Guiard, a clerk in the Department of Finance. Meanwhile, she also entered the Academie de Saint Luc, where she began to study under La Tour in 1774. Her marriage dissolved after a few years after she fell in love with Vincent and married him in 1800.

Portrait of François-André Vincent, 1782 Adelaide Labille Guiard Partner

The decisive step in her artistic career was her election to the Academy in Paris, which then numbered only two female members- Madame Vien and the famous still-life painter Anne Vallayer Coster. Shortly after some time, Vigee Lebrun was also admitted to the institute, which made four women its members.

In 1788, the French Royal family commissioned Labille for a coloured portrait of Princess Louise Elisabeth, who had passed away thirty years earlier- a fact, which is hinted at by the striking shadow on the right wall and by the expression on her son’s face. However, due to the turmoil of the French Revolution, the fee of 4000 livres requested for the painting was never paid, and it remained in the artist’s possession until 1791, when it was exhibited anonymously at the Salon. As a way of demonstrating her progressive political sympathies, she also displayed portraits of Robespierre and other revolutionaries. 

Adélaïde Labille Guiard artwork Louise-Elisabeth with her two-year-old son

The French Revolution did not bring the improved opportunities Labille Guiard had hoped for; in 1793, the reorganized Academy refused to admit women. After their request for artist quarters in the Louvre had been denied for years because the presence of young women would endanger the morals of the male artists living there, in 1795, she and her pupils were at least allowed to occupy them. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard encouraged numerous women during the revolution to become young artists, and she wrote many letters to her fellow to support them. Now that we know about her life summarily: let us move towards her artworks. 

Looking at Adélaïde Labille-Guiard Paintings.

1. Portrait of the Sculptor Pajou.

In Portrait of the Sculptor Pajou, modelling the bust of Lemoyne, sculptor Augustin Pajou (1730-1809) engages the viewer with a gaze that conveys confidence and vigour through his robust bearing. It was crucial to Adélaïde Labille-Guiard that she painted Pajou’s portrait as he was an esteemed academic, artist, and decorator of the Royal Court, and as a family friend had an exceptional interest in Labille Guiard’s early career. She showed Pajou in ruffled work attire, modelling a bust of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1704-1778), his former teacher, which he had actually created 24 years earlier. A rolled-up sleeve exposes his formidable arm in the foreground, leading the viewer’s eye to Pajou’s hands, skillfully moulding the bust of his equally strong master with tender reverence. Thus, Labille-Guiard pays homage to both Pajou and the work he made while a young man honours his hero through this portrait. With soft colours and the expressive potential of a human face, Labille created a naturalism in the painting. 

Portrait of Augustin Pajou Adélaïde Labille Guiard paintings

2. Self-Portrait With Her Pupils.

Another illustration of Adelaide Labille-Guiard shows her Self-portrait with her pupils. She depicted herself in strikingly fashionable attire of a long purple satin dress. These dresses were a remark of sine qua non of social acceptance back then. Labille excelled in the features of clothing here in this portrait, like through the use of fur and magnificent laces, which makes the painting more exclusive. Adelaide demonstrated her virtuosity as a technician in the delicate rendering of textures, showing her ambition to rise in social status. Additionally, she represented herself as a creator of these paintings, as she gazed at her model, which is the viewer, while immersed in the process of creation. It is evident from the statue of the Vestal Virgin that she serves as a teacher in order to maintain the flames of creativity.

Adélaïde Labille Guiard self portrait with her pupils

3. Portrait of Madame Adélaïde.

There is fine attention to veracity in the portrayal of the subject and the details of the surroundings and costume. The artist painted this composition when she was the court painter of Madame Adélade. However, she produced another version of this portrait which she kept to herself and now hangs at Versailles.

Adelaide Labille Guiard self portrait

The subject of these paintings is significant to understand before we begin to look at them. Adelaide of France was the daughter of King Louis XV and aunt of King Louis XVI, and she was the second in line to Queen Marie Antoinette. In this formal portrait, she is pictured in a grand hall at Versailles, surrounded by objects that reveal her piety, devotion, and noble heritage. A porte-crayon is in her hand as she poses in front of a medallion depicting her parents and brother, who have passed away. Among the wall sculptures is a relief sculpture that commemorates her selfless visit to her dying father while he suffered from smallpox. Behind the subject, there lies a footstool, which she laid out the architectural plans for a convent she sponsored. The painting shows a great use of fine colours, a detailed view of even the surroundings, an exquisite and royal touch of objects and expensive imagery of the fine clothes.

4. Portrait of Madame Charles Mitoire With Her Children.

The painting exhibits a sensitive portrayal of maternity, representing the granddaughter of Carle van Loo nursing a baby, with her young child. Wearing a pale blue satin long dress, Madame Charles Mitorie accessorizes herself with pearls in her ears and a powdered coiffure piled with roses and orange blossom. Offering an innocent and beautiful smile to her children, she looks blessed with her motherhood. Her two sons: Alexandre-Laurent, a boy of three with soft curls, plumping cheeks, and a fairer tone with a slight blush on his cheeks and Charles-Benoit, the nursing baby in her arms who is seminude, are engaged in getting love and affection of their mother.

Portrait of Madame Charles Mitoire With Her Children Adelaide Labille Guiard

Adelaide used wet pastels with a brush and dry ones with a stick to impart different kinds of textures and softness. For instance, there is a smoothness in the silk and muslin, petal and curls. The portrait radically signals the modernity of the subject but with the same approach and love for motherhood. The work documents a contemporary fashionable attitude about nursing promoted firstly by Rousseau in the Happy Mothers and Other New Ideas in French Art. Rather than retaining the services of a wet nurse, which most wealthy families did at that time, she cultivated a tighter and more intimate bond with her children by breastfeeding them personally. Further, the depiction of breasts as femininity and fertility is a remarkable message to the viewers. 

Some of her other artworks are Head of a Young Woman, 1779 and Study of a Seated Woman Seen from Behind (Marie-Gabrielle Capet).

Head of a Young Woman Adélaïde Labille Guiard paintings
Study of a Seated Woman Seen from Behind (Marie-Gabrielle Capet) Adelaide Labille Guiard paintings

Final Words.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was one of the finest artists of the eighteenth century, which very few people know about. Her continuous dedication towards her work and inspiring women throughout the french revolution was more than a motivation. Even though Labille-Guiard’s paintings became more stylized, her painting technique continued to be precise and methodical, which made her portraits precise to date.


Auricchio, Laura. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is Adelaide Labille-Guiard known for?

Adelaide Labille-Guiard was an accomplished portraitist of the 18th century from France who was known for her naturalistic portrait, her efficiency of miniature painting as well as her attempts to push women in art during the French revolution.

How many artworks did Adélaïde Labille-Guiard create?

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was vastly popular during her time, helping the artist to get commissions from various parties. For this reason, it becomes almost impossible to keep a count of the number of paintings she created in her lifetime.

What type of art did Adelaide Labille-Guiard create?

Miniature and Portraiture.

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