Press Room

National Museum of Women in the Arts Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with the First Ever Exhibition of French Women Artists from the Age of Louis XV to the Post-Napoleonic Era

Jan 02 2012

In keeping with its mission to rediscover and celebrate women artists of the past and demonstrate their continued relevance, the National Museum of Women in Arts (NMWA) presents Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections.

The exhibition features 77 paintings, prints, and sculptural works from 1750 to 1850—many of which have never been seen outside of France. To develop the exhibition, NMWA spent months scouring the collections of dozens of French museums and libraries to cull rarely-seen works by women artists. Royalists to Romantics showcases these exceptional works and reveals how the tumultuous period that saw the flowering of the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the terrors of the French revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the restoration of the monarchy affected the lives and careers of women artists.

Featuring 35 artists, including Marguerite Gérard, Antoine Cecile Haudebourt-Lescot, Adélaïde Labille-Guillard, Sophie Rude, Anne Vallayer-Coster, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, the exhibition explores the political and social dynamics that shaped their world and influenced their work. Some of these artists flourished with support of such aristocratic patrons as Marie Antoinette, who not only appointed her favorite female artists Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and Anne Vallayer-Coster to court, but advocated their acceptance into the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture. The political upheavals of the French Revolution and the following decades brought a new set of challenges for women artists. Royalists to Romantics explores the complex ways that women negotiated their cultural positions and marketed their reputations in France’s shifting social, political and artistic environment.

Royalists to Romantics is the first exhibition to focus on women artists of this time period in France and demonstrate how they navigated a highly gendered world that presented different opportunities for education and patronage than for their male counterparts,” said NMWA Chief Curator Dr. Jordana Pomeroy. “The exhibition will illuminate a burgeoning area of art history that describes a rich, active, and compelling art world as complex and layered as our art world today.”

“In celebration of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ 25th anniversary, we are delighted to present Royalists to Romantics, an exhibition dedicated to a group of extraordinary 18th-century women artists that inspired our founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay,” said Museum Director, Dr. Susan Fisher Sterling. “Like other important historical surveys NMWA has organized, including An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum and Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque, bringing this great art to the U.S. from the Louvre, Versailles and other French National Collections demonstrates our continued commitment to new scholarship about exceptional women artists over the centuries.”

Among the themes explored in the exhibition are: • How women, largely banned from formal academic training and exhibiting venues, relied on personal • connections and informal networks of patronage, support, and training; • The ways in which women adapted as the system of patronage evaporated during the revolution and they were forced to work in an increasingly competitive and public marketplace; • The power structure that made the mere act of women being artists scandalous, often subjecting them to accusations of sexual immorality and professional impropriety.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a 135 page fully-illustrated catalogue published by Scala Publishers, London, with essays by noted scholars in the field.

“The exhibition and catalogue for Royalists to Romantics will help to banish the obscurity that has veiled the legacy of many 18th-century French women artists,” said Dr. Pomeroy. “These stunning works both illuminate their makers’ careers and offer a new narrative about the art world of the Revolutionary period.”

Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections has been organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., with logistical support from sVo Art, Versailles.

To complement Royalists to Romantics, haute couture designer Celia Reyer will be in residence at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, crafting an 18th century riding habit inspired by portraiture in the exhibition. This program will give audiences an understanding of not only what was worn during the reign of Marie Antoinette, but also how clothing of the era was made. Visitors will have the opportunity to observe Ms. Reyer in the museum’s galleries working on the piece using historic materials and methods from 12–5 p.m. on February 23, 25; March 4, 11, 18, 25, and April 1 and 8.

The exhibition is made possible by the Annenberg Foundation, the Florence Gould Foundation, Hermès, Teresa L. and Joe R. Long, and Jacqueline Badger Mars, with additional funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, an Anonymous Donor, the Robert Lehman Foundation, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Further support is provided by Air France and Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square.

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National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. Founded as a private, not-for-profit organization by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay in 1981 and opened in 1987, the museum honors women artists of the past, promotes the accomplishments of women artists of the present, and helps assure the place of women artists in the future. The collection features more than 4,000 works dating from the 16th-century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Lavinia Fontana, Alma Thomas, Louise Nevelson, Lilla Cabot Perry and Frida Kahlo, along with special collections of 18th century botanical prints, works by British and Irish women silversmiths from the 17th–19th centuries, and more than 1,000 artists’ books. NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC in a landmark building just blocks from the White House. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit nmwa.org.

NMWA is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Youth 18 and under are free. Community Days with complimentary admission are held the first Sunday of every month.