Marie-Geneviève Navarre's ability to create compelling pastel portraits earned her recognition among the most esteemed pastelists of the 18th century.
Pastel portraiture had been made fashionable in France by Rosalba Carriera, a Venetian artist who created society portraits for the Paris elite in 1720 and 1721. Navarre made gained prominence in this medium: her pastel portraits are appreciated for their skill, realism, and warmth. Navarre distinctively rendered her subjects through animated line-work.
As a female artist under male instruction (her teacher was Maurice Quentin de la Tour), Navarre was praised for the excellence of her work, which she executed entirely without help. She also worked as a copyist, studying existing works of art and creating replicas. Navarre exhibited her work at the Hotel d’Aligre in the Rue St. Honoré in 1762 and 1764, and she exhibited in 1774 at the Salon de la Correspondence with another student of la Tour, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.
Because women artists were seldom represented in the prestigious Académie Royale, they often sought acceptance in the Académie de Saint-Luc, whose membership of 4,500 artists included 130 women. It was in this Académie that Navarre exhibited her work in 1762, 1764, and 1774. Both her paintings and drawings were accepted to this impressive venue, but Navarre’s highly praised pastels were considered superior to her oil paintings.