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"The Charming Spectacle of a Cadaver": Anatomical and Life Study by Women Artists in Paris, 1775–1815
by Margaret A. Oppenheimer


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Fig. 1. Vincenzo Camuccini, Men and women artists in studio and body snatchers with newly arrived corpse. Black chalk and gray wash on off-white laid paper. Photograph Courtesy of Shepherd Gallery, New York. Camuccini visited Paris in 1810, and this scene of artists studying a cadaver in a private studio was almost certainly drawn during his visit.
On the third day of frimaire, year 8, of the French Revolutionary calendar (November 23, 1799), the administration of the department of Seine et Oise addressed a letter to the Ministry of the Interior in Paris. According to the register of correspondence of the Ministry, the administrators of Seine et Oise wished to know "if women [might] attend with men the courses in osteology and myology taught at the School of the Live Model established at Versailles."1 Osteology and myology being the study of bones and muscles respectively, the issue was whether women might attend anatomy courses with men.
After inquiring into the policy at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (then known as the Écoles Nationales de Peinture et de Sculpture), the Minister informed the worried administrators that women's presence should be permitted.2 An uneventful response to an innocuous inquiry? Perhaps...but that simple query was a manifestation of a fierce but forgotten controversy regarding the training of women artists in France. There were two main questions at issue. The first was whether women had the right to participate alongside men in courses in "picturesque anatomy," in which students studied human bone structure and musculature by means of engravings, écorchés, and skeletons. Sometimes these courses included the dissection of corpses and the use of a live nude model to demonstrate muscle movements. The second issue was whether women should be allowed to attend life classes in which male students drew after nude models.
It has long been recognized that at least a small number of women artists in Europe from the Renaissance onwards found the means to pursue anatomical and life study on a private basis. They studied plates from books, hired models to pose for them, or worked in the atelier of a father or other male relative.3 However, until now it has remained virtually unknown that women artists were permitted to join men in state-sanctioned anatomy classes and to draw from the nude in mixed-sexed settings before the latter half of the nineteenth century. The documents presented in this article make it clear that some women artists openly participated in coeducational life study by 1775 and continued to do so through at least the end of the First Empire. In addition, they attended anatomy classes that used cadavers and live models from at least 1792, studying side-by-side with male art students at the Louvre, and in other public and private settings (fig. 1).
The controversy that attended these activities, and is explored in this article, forms a little-known aspect of the much larger "woman question" of the eighteenth century—that contentious debate over what women should and should not be allowed to do that has attracted so much critical scrutiny over the last 25 years. Biological determinism came into play (women were unfit for sustained study of any serious discipline), as did fear of unleashed female sexuality (viewing the male nude and mingling with young men would encourage promiscuity), awareness of the threat to the established social order (who would take care of the home and the children if women took up careers?), and apprehension at the thought of female competition (there were already plenty of underemployed male artists). Perhaps most devastating to women who would have liked to train for a professional vocation was the persistence with which activities outside of the home were portrayed as an abrogation of women's natural role in life (as modest and retiring guardians of home and family)—to the point that it was difficult to envision how one could be an artist and a woman at the same time.4 Two satires presented here, as well as excerpts from the letters of a female artist who considered joining a coeducational studio in 1813, make clear that the new educational opportunities were so psychologically and socially costly that most women would not have had the resolve to pursue them.
But at least the bravest and boldest women did have broadened access to artistic training by the fourth quarter of the eighteenth century.5 The earliest evidence comes from an unimpeachable if disapproving source: the Comte d'Angiviller, Louis XVI's General Director of Buildings. D'Angiviller was responsible for the maintenance and decoration of all the king's palaces, and oversaw the doings of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, including the activities of the Academy's school. In this capacity, he addressed a severe letter to the Academy's director, history painter Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre, on April 6, 1775.6 D'Angiviller complained of the poor quality of the work that the Academy's students were producing, as well as their turbulent behavior. In particular, he deplored the proliferation of private venues where the Academy's pupils drew after the live model, pooling their funds to pay the models' fees. The existence of such studios encouraged students to think that they could "do without the assistance of the Academy," posing a threat to its prestige and profitability.7 That was not the worst of it, however. "…An abuse, more dangerous yet," wrote d'Angiviller, "is the entrée given to filles ou femmes artistes [girl or women artists] in these private schools, to draw after the nude model. This is essentially a moral concern, and, at a moment when his Majesty has manifested to the Academy, through my mediation, his intentions on the use that he would like to make of the arts relative to national morality, I cannot stress to you enough the need for attention to this subject."8
D'Angiviller was concerned with the intermingling of young men and women in an unsupervised and seemingly provocative setting. Nude female models were barred from the Academy's own schools of painting and sculpture for fear that their presence would facilitate immorality among impressionable boys and young men.9 Students who wanted to employ female models had to do so privately, in studios they rented themselves or in the ateliers of their professors.10 Now, not only were young men drawing nude women, they were doing so outside the Academy and in the presence of other women and girls—females who might corrupt them, and who they themselves might corrupt.
What Pierre did, if anything, or could have done about women's attendance at private studios is unknown. The transcripts of the proceedings of the Academy up to the Revolution do not refer to it again, and in 1783, d'Angiviller could still confidently declare to Louis XVI that women could not "be useful to the progress of the arts because the decorum ["décence"] of their sex forbids them from being able to study after nature and in the public [art] schools established and founded by Your Majesty."11
Indeed it was true that public drawing schools in cities such as Lyon and Rouen, and the state-sponsored art schools run by the Academy, were open to male students only. Yet evidence exists that women artists were still practicing life study from the nude in private studios around the time that d'Angiviller wrote these words. In 1785, a moralist annoyed at the increasing number of women artists exhibiting at an annual outdoor exhibition held in the place Dauphine in Paris wrote a letter to the Journal Général de France.12 He questioned whether women were robust enough to be professional artists; argued that their domestic duties would prevent them from devoting enough time to the subject to become expert; and opined that it was disadvantageous to encourage them since there were too many male artists already. But the incendiary core of his complaint was the issue of life study. "Will the rules of decency be respected," he asked, "by females whose immodest eyes will have become accustomed to seeing a completely nude man every day?....Nevertheless, it is only too true that more than one private academy ["société académique"] of this type exists in Paris."13
The critic did not have to explain why indecency and immodesty were particularly undesirable in females. From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards, modesty was considered part of women's essential nature.14 Modesty meant avoiding forwardness, boastfulness, and all public notoriety, and being content to stay at home and tend the household. It was equally a code of sexual behavior. A modest woman was chaste if single, faithful to her husband if married. The modesty of women and girls needed to be protected by shielding them from images, writings, and experiences that could destroy the purity of their thoughts and deeds. Females who defied modesty by engaging in immodest activity—which could be defined as anything from painting to prostitution—became "unnatural," no longer women at all.15
The letter in the Journal Général de France prompted three responses from supporters of women artists. Two of the three correspondents were unwilling to challenge established notions of propriety by defending life study from the nude. They limited themselves to pointing out that there was at least one painting studio where girls would not be exposed to such morally compromising activities: "…because if there are some [young women] who make themselves guilty of the infamy of drawing a completely nude man, all are not in that case; and after having said that more than one private academy exists where they follow these miserable principles, it would have been only just to add that one exists whose principles are not in the least harmful to modesty."16

This "well known school of painting," which excluded students who displayed the least appearance of indecency or dissipation, was directed by a "Dame Artist" who was a member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.17 She is not identified by name, but the writers most likely referred to the studio run by the female portrait painter Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, one of the four female members of the Academy, and a prominent supporter and teacher of women artists.18

According to one of the letter writers, who claimed to be the mother of a girl who attended this atelier, neither teacher nor pupils studied from male nudes nor even from totally nude female models:

"She [the Dame Artist] is convinced that only subjects taken from history or myth, treated in large format, demand that one know how to draw the nude in its entirety: but this genre is too much above her sex. All that proves that the usage of drawing a nude man, although unfortunately too prevalent, is neither general, nor necessary to form demoiselles painters…."19

This letter and the one that preceded it have the air of a careful campaign to preserve the reputation of the unnamed académicienne and her students by proving that painting could be practiced by girls and women without offending prevailing notions of propriety and women's societal role.20 The two authors were less concerned about opening up new opportunities for female artists than in preventing a backlash against them that would close off the possibilities that already existed. A handful of exceptional women might, by their talents, win conditional and limited acceptance in male-dominated professions, but their reputations could be destroyed by intimations of immorality in their private lives. Handling such attacks was often a difficult balancing act between defending one's right to practice an activity typically reserved for men, while making it clear that one was not attempting to redefine the role of women in society. Hence the letter purporting to be from the mother of one of the Dame Artist's pupils, which may well have been written with the académicienne's approval and consent. It presents the disquieting image of a skilled professional collaborating in her own suppression by claiming that large-scale history or mythological paintings were beyond the capacities of her sex. Similarly, the eighteenth-century anatomist Marie Thiroux d'Arconville produced a notable image of the female skeleton, but advised women not to meddle in medicine.21

A more vigorous defense of women artists came from Antoine Renou, Secretary of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.22 He was courageous enough to sign his epistle with his own name, and challenged "Mr. Anonymous" (his way of referring to the moralist who wrote the initial letter to the Journal Général de France) to do the same. Remarkably Renou refused to condemn women artists for their decision to study from the live model. Instead, he pointed out that his anonymous adversary was misinformed: "It is not true in our Schools that the man drawn by other men is completely nude: it is a homage that one takes care to render to the modesty of the public. Now why would our Censor presume that the same precaution is not taken vis-à-vis persons of the female sex when, for the love of their Art, they believe themselves obliged to have recourse, in private, to the study of nature?"23
With considerable originality, Renou then buttressed his support for his female compatriots by claiming that repeated viewing of the male nude would produce satiety rather than desire. In support of this argument, he cited the actions of the Spartan leader Lycurgus "who made girls and boys fight in the nude to extinguish the fire of their passions…." Renou added that those who didn't practice professions requiring study of the nude didn't realize that it was more often a distasteful necessity than a pleasure!24
Throughout his letter, Renou took care to drop the names of women artists of unblemished reputation as a way of proving that the practice of the arts was not in itself morally corrupting to females. He noted, for example, that a recently deceased académicienne, Mme Roslin, was "as virtuous a wife, as tender and watchful a mother, as she was a good Painter."25 (It is worth observing that all of his shining examples were safely dead. He avoided referring to any living artists by name, doubtless to avoid stigmatizing them by brandishing their names in public in a context that could associate them with a controversial issue.) In conclusion, Renou demanded his adversary to concede that the study of the arts "in no way harms the morals of girls," but instead occupies their minds, teaches them to work hard, and "in no way prevent[s] them from being good mothers and faithful spouses." In fact, their talent, "by flattering the vanity of their husbands," might even be "an extra tie to attach them."26
As the letters by Renou and his adversary make clear, worries about women artists studying from the nude were rarely raised in isolation. Instead, they were almost always accompanied by the expression of concern about whether it was useful and appropriate for women to practice the arts at all. On the one hand was the conviction that the sight of the unclothed male bodies would promote libertine behavior; on the other, the fear that professional training would lead women to ignore their duties as mothers, wives, and daughters.27 The height of virtue for women was the willingness to play a supporting role: tending their husbands, holding the family together, and raising and educating the young.

Many men (and indeed women) were threatened by the thought that women might fail to fulfill these assigned, and societally necessary, functions. When a group of women artists gave a banquet for Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in 1800, to celebrate the success of one of his paintings at the Salon, an anonymous letter writer was quick to point out their abandonment of duty:

But while these celestial women spent seven or eight hours arranging the palms on Guérin's brow, how happy were their families! With what admirable patience the newborn child would have known to await the maternal breast that gives him life and owes him sustenance! Just as time, with a rapid wing, would have borne away the solitary moments of these husbands! Just as this mercenary governess would have replaced the touching cares that this good old man expected from a cherished daughter! What order, what economy, what vigilance will have reigned in their homes!28

Moralizing screeds such as this found a ready audience. As Carla Hesse points out in discussing similar criticisms aimed at women writers during the Revolutionary period, these reactionary attacks were a reflection of the dichotomy between dominant male conceptions of gender norms on the one hand, and the reality of female behavior on the other.29

The issue of women artists' study from live models came to the fore again a few years after the outbreak of the French Revolution. It surfaced in the words of a journalist who reviewed the Paris Salon exhibition of 1791. He referred indignantly to daily, two-hour, coeducational sessions during which the nude male model was drawn, and in which girls as young as twelve years old participated.30 "I don't understand," he complained, "why a girl, in order to paint some coquettes or perukes, has to spend two hours a day on a regular basis drawing entirely nude men of all shapes, sizes, and aspects, when able portrait painters themselves neglect this type of study, which is repugnant to modesty."31 He made his comments in the course of reviewing history paintings by Marie-Guihelmine Laville de Laroulx (later Mme Benoist), a student of David, and portraits by Rose Ducreux, pupil of her portraitist-father Joseph Ducreux.32 The implication is that the two women were among those attending the anatomy sessions.
At the time the journalist wrote these lines, dramatic new opportunities had opened for Frenchwomen in the arts that went well beyond the possibility of studying from nude models. Women artists benefited greatly from the reform and then abolition of the Academy that took place during the French Revolution. Under the monarchy, the Academy, central to French artistic life, barred women from serving as officers or teaching in or attending its schools. From 1770, it also restricted the number of its female members to four. Since only members of the Academy could participate in the Paris Salons, the prestigious art exhibitions that were held in the Salon carré of the Louvre, the quota severely hampered women artists' ability to garner public recognition.
In September 1790, the body's cap on women members was removed, thanks largely to the advocacy of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, one of the four female academicians.33 An even more important change occurred the following year. In 1791, the Paris Salons were wrested from the control of the Academy and opened to all artists, women included. Although startling, the new opportunities were consistent with contemporary sentiment favoring equality of opportunities "without other distinctions than those of [a citizen's] virtues and talents."34 It was the same egalitarian attitude that would lead to the demise of the Academy in 1793.
The Salons stayed open to all who wish to exhibit even after the Revolution ended. Moreover, we know that women retained the possibility of studying from the nude in mixed-sexed settings, because questions about the propriety of the practice recurred in the late 1790s. This time the issue attracted considerably more attention than it had in 1775, 1785, or 1791. Charles-Paul Landon, a painter, publisher, and art critic, launched an epistolary debate on the subject with a letter, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," published in two parts in the Journal de Paris on February 13 and March 31, 1799.35 Landon inveighed against the study of nude models by female artists, complaining that then-current usage by women, even the youngest students, "of live, nude models, in numerous studios," was "if not useless, at least too often premature, and of little profit for the genre that most of them have chosen."36 Whether Landon's reference to "numerous studios" was factually accurate or mere hyperbole, his words suggest that life study by women may have been relatively widespread.

Landon continued with lines aimed at women who attended anatomy courses:

[W]e regret to see girls in the early stages of their studies frequenting a public amphitheater of anatomy and mingling imprudently among the crowd of male students, for whom alone this school seems destined. I have always thought that it is only for the men that the government placed here, as objects of instruction, skeletons, écorchés (which have a repulsive appearance), and anatomical paintings, which by their exactitude and truth create dolorous impressions in the soul, and infallibly tarnish, if I may express myself thus, this aureole of modesty with which nature has taken pleasure in ornamenting the brow of timid virgins.37

Landon's references to a public amphitheater and to instructional props supplied by the government reveal that he was referring to the courses in picturesque anatomy given at the Louvre by the surgeon Jean-Joseph Süe, Jr. from 1789 to 1830. Süe's anatomy program was offered primarily for the benefit of the students (all male) of the Écoles Nationales de Peinture et de Sculpture, which continued and replaced the schools of the now defunct Academy. The program was composed of a course in which participants studied engravings and skeletons and observed the dissection of cadavers, and a second series of classes in which Süe compared, with the assistance of a live model, "the man in motion, the antique, and the écorché."38 The fact that Süe's courses were advertised publicly and open to artists who were not enrolled at the Écoles gave him the leeway to accept women students, a privilege he apparently took advantage of at least from this time (i.e., 1799) onwards, if not before. He also permitted women to attend private courses in natural history (incorporating lectures on human anatomy and physiology) that he gave at his own establishment.39 The reality that women were attending Süe's anatomy classes with the male students of the Écoles Nationales doubtless explains why the Minister of the Interior decreed that they should also be permitted to attend anatomy classes at the School of the Live Model in Versailles (as described at the beginning of this article).

Landon had little use for Süe's tolerance, as is clear from his letter "Sur les Femmes Artistes." After the diatribe against anatomy study quoted above, Landon continued by recommending that female artists limit themselves to flower painting, a genre uniquely suited to women's natural gifts, and one in which they could equal and even surpass their male counterparts:

The study of flowers and of plants in general, as well as the art of drawing their shapes and hues, is suitable, in every respect, for a delicate, modest, and peaceful sex; it is at the Jardin National des Plantes, in the midst of the most brilliant productions, and the richest and best-ordered collection in the universe, that I would like to concentrate the observations of a young woman artist. Docile to the lessons of the famous Vanspaën-Donck, instructed by his example, she would learn the means by which art can successfully rival nature.40 -It is sweet to give pupils only smiling images, only enchanting models, and far from veiling some parts from their eyes, to present everything to them in a thousand interesting aspects. They also study the anatomy of plants, but far from offending the eyes and nose, these soothe our senses by the sweetness of the scents, and by the elegance of the forms and the variety of the colors.41

Landon's condescending advice to his female colleagues appeared at a moment when the ever-increasing numbers of women artists were attracting growing attention. Twenty-one female artists appeared at the first open Salon in 1791, seven times the three who appeared in 1789 when the exhibition was restricted to academicians. By the Salon of 1798, the number of women artists participating had reached 27, prompting Landon to wonder in his letter whether "this prodigious fecundity" was leading art "imperceptibly toward its decadence."42 The latter phrase probably reminded Landon's readers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's claim that the decline of the arts in pre-Revolutionary France was due to the excessive power wielded by women in society and the dominance of female taste.43 They might well have asked themselves (as Landon surely intended them to do) whether the current prominence of women artists was a sign not only of artistic decay, but also of widespread social corruption like that thought to have doomed the Old Regime.

In the 1790s alone, four women artists obtained state-supported lodgings at the Louvre, a highly desirable benefit.44 Others won prizes at the Salons and received government commissions. In 1792, Marie-Geneviève Bouliar gained a commission of 1000 livres to produce a travail d'encouragement, based on the quality of her exhibits at the Salon of 1791.45 In September 1795, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard and Marie-Guillelmine Benoist received two of the encouragements for artists offered by the National Convention, winning prizes of 3000 and 1500 livres, respectively.46 In early 1799, Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet won a tableau d'encouragement thanks to the excellence of one of her submissions to the Salon of 1798.47 Women artists also won four of the 35 encouragements awarded at the Salon of 1799.48 They would continue to receive awards and commissions and to exhibit in growing numbers through the Salons of the Consulate, First Empire, and Restoration.49 Thirty-two women appeared at the Salon of 1801, 49 at that of 1802, 50 in 1806, 76 in 1810, and 84 in 1819.
Once women began to exhibit in public and to produce works proficient enough to attract the attention of the critics, they became an increasing threat to male artists (such as Landon) to whom they had previously posed little competition.50 As we have already seen, even in the 1780s, when most women were still excluded from the Salon, a strong female presence at the outdoor exhibition held in the place Dauphine in Paris was enough to raise masculine fears.
By the 1790s, when Landon was writing, it was too late to argue that women shouldn't study painting at all. There were too many respectable middle-class women already working in the arts. The best that could be done was to try and dissuade them from practicing the best paid and most prestigious genres. From anatomy and life study, which would fit them to paint history, Landon steered girls and women toward botanical drawing and painting, "suitable…for a delicate, modest, and peaceful sex."
Botany and botanical drawing had been accepted well before the Revolution as appropriate hobbies for females. They demanded qualities that were, like modesty, considered natural to women, such as patience, delicacy, and good taste.51 Middle and upper class girls and women thronged to the botanical garden (Jardin des Plantes) in Paris to attend the lectures given by botany professors such as René Louiche-Desfontaines. A special section of the amphitheater was reserved for them, where they could sit on benches separated from the men.52 Before and after the Revolution, they also took courses in botanical illustration at the Jardin des Plantes, such as those offered by the flower painter Gerardus van Spaendonck. "Docile to the lessons of the famous Vanspaën-Donck," as Landon put it, they learned to draw plants and animals. Botany study for women had even received the imprimatur of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote eight letters on botany to a young mother between 1771 and 1773.53 The status of botany as a "soft" science made it particularly recommendable to women. It was a subject of "pure curiosity," Rousseau wrote, and had "no other real utility than that which a thoughtful and sensitive person can derive from the observation of nature and the marvels of the universe."54
In the same way that botany could be opened to women because it was a less serious pursuit than other sciences, floral painting was considered a trivial branch of the visual arts, and therefore acceptable for women to practice. In the French hierarchy of genres, established by André Félibien in 1667 and influential into the nineteenth century, the most elevated status went to painters who produced allegorical compositions. They were followed in order of descending importance by painters of history and mythology, portrait painters, animal painters, landscape painters, and finally, painters of flowers, fruits, and shells.55 Tellingly, Anne Vallayer-Coster, one of the finest eighteenth-century painters of still life and flowers, was praised for practicing an inferior genre with superior talent.56 The creation of floral images tended to be considered less a fine art and more an adjunct of the less prestigious "mechanical arts," in which artists provided patterns for textiles, wallpapers, and other decorative items.57
Reflecting the low status of floral painting, remarkably few artists of either sex submitted flower paintings to the Paris Salons at the end of the eighteenth century. Of the several hundred artists who participated in the Salons between 1789 and 1799, only 13 exhibited paintings or drawings of flowers, and only four of those 13 were female.58 Clearly, most professional women artists had no innate predilection for flower painting at this era, but as Landon realized, they would pose far less of a threat to their male colleagues as floral artists than if they continued to chose more popular genres.

Landon's advice to women artists was soon attacked by a pseudonymous "Anna Cléophile, Artist," who defended the benefits of anatomical study by females in a letter to the Journal de Paris (while discreetly neglecting to address the more inflammatory issue of drawing from the nude):

The rapidity of the progress that several young artists have made, since they have attended the course in picturesque anatomy established at the Louvre, has induced some husbands and mothers, whose morals are very austere, to tell their wives and daughters about the precious means of instruction that they had no need to suppose existed only for men. Without doubt, the citizen Landon hasn't attended any of the course sessions. Otherwise, he wouldn't have given himself the trouble of regretting indiscretions that certainly did not take place, and he would be completely persuaded that the women there have never been exposed to see or hear anything that could tarnish (as he phrased it) this aureole of modesty with which nature has adorned their brow.59

In a patronizing and not very successful attempt to answer Anna Cléophile's arguments, Landon claimed that he did not say that women's study of live models should be eliminated, but rather that "the abuse (I said only the abuse) of live, nude models, as well as pretended anatomical studies, is an obstacle to the rapidity of their progress."60

Harping on the subject, he added:

I am far from failing to recognize the zeal and attentions of Citizen Sue [sic], professor of anatomy at the schools of painting and sculpture. His observations on the live model are of the first utility; but it is no less true that the specialized research that one can do on a dissected human body procures a sensible advantage only to artists consumed with this science. For all the others, this display is pure and useless affectation. Finally, I repeat, there is nothing more revolting, nothing more capable of blunting this sweet sensibility that forms women's most precious charm, than the habit of coldly contemplating a horribly mutilated cadaver, which only offers the fetid and bloody image of destruction in all its parts.61

Landon's disapproval of an excessive focus on anatomical study and dissection is reminiscent of Diderot's denunciation in his Notes on Painting of the excessive use of the écorché by male art students:

…[I]s it not to be feared that this écorché might remain in the imagination forever; that this might encourage the artist to become enamored of his knowledge and show it off; that his vision might be corrupted, precluding alternative study of surfaces; that despite the presence of skin and fat, he might come to perceive nothing but muscles, their beginnings, attachments, and insertions….Since only the exterior is exposed to view, I prefer to be trained to see it fully.62

Thus Landon's diatribe against the training that Süe offered was prompted not just by his annoyance that some of the students were female. It also reflects the existence of a long-standing debate about the best way to train young artists: focusing on the ideal, as represented by ancient sculpture, or going back to nature as the supreme model, and therefore valuing anatomy and life study over art of the past.

The Landon-Cléophile correspondance must have attracted considerable attention at the period, because art critics continued to refer to it well into the First Empire. The most amusing reaction to the controversy took the form of two satires published in the late summer of 1799 in the Journal des arts, de littérature et de commerce. The first, addressed to Charles Paul Landon, is signed "Ledoux." It pokes fun at women artists, and also manages to take a few jabs at one of their supporters, Jacques-Louis David, whose predilection for painting immense canvases is ridiculed indirectly. Its author pleaded:

In the name of God, Citizen, leave in peace these poor women artists that you have been pleased to criticize, I don't know why, and that you would like to make renounce their talent. What has resulted from it? You have turned my daughter's head; but let me explain: it's not as you might think.

My daughter had destined herself to the grand genre of painting, and would not have given twenty-five centimes for the most beautiful painting of Teniers or Van-Huisum; she dreamed only of battles, ceilings, immense groupings; her bedroom was filled with écorchés, skulls, and bones, each one more disgusting than the last. Every time I opened the door, a cursed skeleton that was hung there cracked his carcass in the most terrifying manner; and it is in the middle of these objects that my daughter enclosed herself, every morning, with a lanky Jack of a model, living model that she painted and repainted unceasingly, from head to toes. That didn't please me too much, I acknowledge, but my daughter having pointed out to me that some citoyennes artists did the same, and that, moreover, it was the most useful and innocent thing, I came to my senses. In short, my daughter was going to begin a history painting, of 30 meters, 45 centimeters in width (the war between the ancient and modern gods, subject very moral and very philosophical).63 I had for the execution of the said painting taken, on long-term lease, a former church;64 and as the premises were still too small, I had just had the wall of the sacristy torn down: and now you take it into your head to write, in the journal de paris [sic], that women should not study painting the way men do; that the gracious genre, or landscape, or portraiture, or flowers are more suitable to the delicacy of their organs; what's more, you permit yourself to find it unhealthy that they draw after nude men, and that they enjoy seeing cadavers dissected, etc., etc. My daughter who, let it be said between us, has a slightly weak brain, and from time to time a touch of insanity, which denotes, as you know, a decided vocation for the profession of artist; my daughter, I say, felt herself struck as if by a lightening bolt, and renounced the grand genre Subito to devote herself to that of flowers. But alas! it's just another mania, the love of flowers has become a veritable frenzy, the first act of her conversion was to debaptize herself: her godmother, one of the richest butchers of the rue Jacques had named her Judith; well, the goddaughter has abandoned this name for that of Rose. When she undertook the study of anatomy, she forced me to go live in the rue du Sépulcre; she just made me move in order to inhabit the rue du Jardinet. She has covered the walls of her studio with a flowered wallpaper, broken all her plaster casts, and sent away a surgeon that she was on the point of marrying, and the skeleton and skull that he had given her; they were the bridal gifts. The Aesculapius has been replaced by a young apothecary who gives her frequent lessons in botany; she would have preferred a flower gardener, but none presented himself. The tables, fireplaces, windows, armchairs, all the furniture at home are covered with pots of flowers, of which the maintenance costs me five or six francs two times the décade.65 Rose no longer takes walks anywhere but in the rue aux Fers or the quai de la Ferraille. Her robes, shawls, fichus, and bonnets were solid-colored; we've just sent everything to the Jouy factory to print them with designs.66 That's not all: as long as my daughter was a Judith, she was fat, rosy, and dimpled; become Rose, she has lost her freshness, she is of a dryness to make one tremble, and that isn't astonishing since she has adopted the diet of the anchorites: that is to say that she has renounced the usage of meat for that of vegetables. In the past, when they served us a morsel of beef, or a turkey, she asked me gravely for a portion of the sacro-lumbar, or the mastoid, or the fascia lata, or the sternum, or the coccyx; I was au courant with all these scientific terms. Today, it's something completely different: since she has proscribed anatomy, even the sight of a fricassee makes her heart skip a beat. Now she needs only some tragopogon roots, or the spiny calyx of the cynara, etc., and she proves to me, book in hand, that that means salsifies and artichokes. I hear only of pistils, stamens, cotyledon, umbels, nectaries, siliques, petals, stigmata; and the words of the botanical dictionary have dislodged all the singular terms that designate the different parts of the body. If my poor wife, may God rest her soul, were still in the world, she would have taught Judith to sew, to embroider, to mend my shirts; but you know what a daughter is like abandoned to paternal supervision. Alas! I could only make of mine an artist.67

The satire reflects many preconceptions and prejudices widely held at the time about women artists, educated women, and women in general. "Ledoux," in his Judith/Rose, presents a young woman who takes her enthusiasms to extremes. She is not content to study anatomy in a rational manner to improve her ability in portraiture or genre painting. Instead, she shuts herself up in her room with a nude male model; acquires her own écorchés, bones, and a skeleton; wants to practice the traditionally male genre of history painting; and (defying the proper subordination of children to their parents) makes her father rent a church so that she will have adequate space to work. Yet in spite of all this evidence of dedication to her profession, the minute that Judith reads that women should paint not history but flowers, she abandons her male model, anatomical study, and surgeon fiancé to embark on botanical study and floral painting with the same excessive fervor.

Two explanations are proffered for her irrational behavior. On the one hand, it is viewed as an innate characteristic of the occupation that she has chosen. Her father explains that "from time to time [she has] a touch of insanity, which denotes, as you know, a decided vocation for the profession of artist." The allusion, which would have been easily recognized by contemporary readers, is to an oft-quoted line from Seneca: "there has never been great talent without some touch of madness." The ancient author was referring to a divine fire of enthusiasm and inspiration, but his words were often taken out of context and used, as here, to imply that artists were mentally unstable.68
But Judith did not just suffer from the mild insanity that might be associated with any artist. She also had a specifically female weakness: "a slightly weak brain," as her father phrased it. This formulation has a long history in theories of gender differences that were current in France by the seventeenth century. Women were considered to have less innate potential than men for intellectual accomplishment. Madame de Maintenon wrote of her own sex: "We have as much memory, but less judgment than men; we are more foolish, more frivolous, less inclined toward solid things."69 François Fénelon, one of the idols of the French canon by the late-eighteenth century, went even further in his Treatise on the Education of Girls (1687): "Women, as a rule, have still weaker and more inquisitive minds than men; therefore it is not expedient to engage them in studies that may turn their heads...."70
Not just Judith/Rose, but women in general had difficulty focusing at length on a single subject because they responded too readily to every external impression. As the sieur de Ferville put it in 1618, their minds were like a painter's canvas, "which indifferently accepts the imprint of every color."71 Desmahis, writing about women in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie of 1756, used an even less flattering comparison: "their soul [is] a mirror that receives all objects, reflects them vividly, and retains none of them."72 The old prejudices survived through the end of the century and beyond, acquiring a new biological rationale along the way. The doctor Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis declared in a treatise of 1802 that women were unfit for sustained and profound thought because their cerebral pulp was weaker than that of men.73
Overeducated women risked becoming pedants like Judith/Rose, who flaunts her knowledge of Latinate medical and botanical vocabulary (e.g., asking for "a portion of the sacro-lumbar, or the mastoid, or the fascia lata"). "[W]e must be on our guard," Fenélon had warned, "against making them [young women] ridiculous blue stockings."74 Even if women did have specialized knowledge, they were expected to hide it. The femme savante who displayed her learning was an object of mockery and disdain, as much to Restif de la Bretonne in the eighteenth century and Sylvain Maréchal at the beginning of the nineteenth, as to Mademoiselle de Scudéry and Moliere in the seventeenth.75 The savante who was recognizable as such was, like the immodest woman, unfeminine, even monstrous: "She has lost the charms of her sex; she is a man among women, and is not a man among men."76 She "loses her graces and even her morals in the measure that she gains in knowledge and in talents."77 It is no accident that the young woman who is the object of Ledoux's satire shares the name not only of her godmother, a butcher (unfeminine profession!), but also that of the Israelite heroine who assassinated the Assyrian general Holofernes. In cutting off the tyrant's head, the biblical Judith saved her people, but committed the ultimate unwomanly act. By extrapolation, the young artist Judith lost her femininity by engaging in activities that were the preserve of men (anatomy study, life drawing, history painting). On returning to the feminine preserves of floral painting, she rebaptized herself Rose.
But even in taking up botany, she remains an object of ridicule. At the dinner table, she asks for "some tragopogon roots, or the spiny calyx of the cynara," instead of requesting some salsifies or artichokes. Yet worse, her talk of "pistils, stamens, cotyledon, umbels, nectaries, siliques, petals, [and] stigmata" has suggestive undertones, less obvious to us today than to the original readers of the satire. At the end of the eighteenth century, the system of botanical classification and nomenclature most commonly taught to the public in France was Carl Linnaeus' "sexual system."78 Linnaeus classified plants based on their reproductive parts, by the number and proportions of the (male) stamens and (female) pistils. Using anthropomorphic language, he referred to the stamens and pistils as husbands and wives, the calyx as the marriage bed, the petals as its curtains, the style as the vagina, the antherae as the testicles, and the seeds as the ovula or eggs.79 The similes that he used to describe plant classes could be highly risqué. Class 13 of the Polyandria, which contains flowers with multiple stamens and a single pistil, was envisioned by Linnaeus as twenty-one or more men in one woman's bed.80 Another class, Syngenesia Polygamia Necessaria, was "'a confederation of males where the beds of the spouses occupy the center and those of the concubines the periphery; the spouses being sterile and the concubines fertile.'"81 The problems this terminology presented from the point of view of feminine modesty are obvious. At a public course in Linnaean botany for women in the town of Beauvais around 1798, the audience of mothers and daughters is said to have evaporated after the lecturer embarked on the anatomy of the reproductive parts of the plant.82
The satirist "Ledoux" ends his dissection of Judith/Rose with a nod toward the contemporaneous belief in the differentiation of social roles by gender.83 The father laments that if his late wife had lived, she would have taught their daughter needlework. He himself, being a man, could do little to guide the girl towards appropriate behavior. The result was that she ended up an artist, an occupation that he implies is far less useful and feminine in a woman than the ability to embroider and mend shirts.

As if this satire were not enough to discourage a budding woman artist, a second lampoon addressed to the "citoyen Landon," followed. Clearly by the same hand as the first, although this time signed "Le Beau," it took the form of a letter purporting to be from an artists' model who would lose business if women no longer required his services:

…Usually I work in several academies and private studios of women artists, but for some time, the painters have employed hardly any models, either they lack work, or they find it easier and more economical to work from the imagination. The women's academies are the only resource left to me, and if we take your word for it, they will soon be suppressed. What will become of me then, because besides the fact that my position allows me to support myself, it also procures me some little pleasures. Isn't it nice to find a good meal every morning, to spend the winter near a good stove and always dressed like a little Saint John, which is very comfortable during the summer, sometimes tête-à-tête, sometimes surrounded by a troup of young citoyennes, among whom there are some who are really most kind? Their pretty faces and their little babble prevents me from being bored during the whole time I stay there, arms crossed, without moving more than a mannequin; add to that, the compliments that I receive as long as the session lasts: the handsome trapeziums! the handsome deltoids! admire that large dorsal, my good friend! the pretty clavicles! what muscular vigor! what a fresh complexion! etc. ; all these kindnesses, citizens, are well worth their price….

I've just had an idea, citizen; couldn't you, at the same time that you engage women to use the nude model rarely, invite men to consult it more often? There wouldn't be anything wrong about that; and to tell you the truth, I would be paid just the same.84

The satirist draws on several of the same themes as before. The girls crowding the studio parade their knowledge of anatomy, showing themselves to be as pedantic as Judith ("admire that large dorsal, my good friend!"). Suggestive phrasing intimates that their practice of life study may extend to activities beyond painting and drawing (e.g., "a troup of young citoyennes, among whom there are some who are really most kind"). The conversation among the girls is dismissed as "babble," trivializing their pretensions to be artists.

"Le Beau" also raises an issue not treated in the prior satire. According to the model who serves as his mouthpiece, male painters have begun to abandon use of the live model: "either they lack work, or they find it easier and more economical to work from the imagination." The comment reflects contemporary unease over the growing tendency of artists to abandon history painting and allegory (for which life study was essential) in favor of less prestigious but more marketable fields such as portraiture and genre painting.85 As history and allegory were considered the highest forms of painting, the reputation of the French school of painting could suffer from the shift in taste.86 Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Baptiste Regnault, two of France's best-known history painters, didn't even exhibit at the Salons of 1796 and 1798. David's pupil Anne-Louis Girodet, considered one of the most promising young history painters, was absent in 1796 and submitted only portraits two years later. François Gérard, another highly-esteemed student of David, also exhibited mainly portraits in 1796 and 1798. To the distress of many painters and theorists, patrons didn't want historical or allegorical subjects anymore: "a large and handsome history painting, which demanded a major outlay for the canvas and the models, finds almost no buyers, while a painter much more easily sells off some little genre painting that cost him almost nothing to produce."87
One obvious explanation for the lack of history paintings on exhibit was that the state, which had traditionally commissioned and paid for most of them, was under major financial constraints in the immediate post-Revolutionary period, and had limited funding to spare for the arts. "Le Beau," however, hints at a more insidious reason for the decline of history and allegory. By contrasting women's study of the male nude with men's relative abandonment of the practice, he implies in his satire that women's ambitions to paint the nude, and by extension, to create history paintings, were adversely affecting male artistic production. Charles-Paul Landon had expressed a similar sentiment when he wondered whether the "prodigious fecundity" of female artists was leading art "imperceptibly toward its decadence."88
Funny as they are, the satires above and the correspondence that preceded them suggest just how difficult it must have been for a woman artist to defy convention and practice anatomy study and life drawing. The experience of a Swiss artist, Amélie Romilly, is a case in point.89 Romilly, a student of the Geneva portrait painter Firmin Massot, visited Paris on a voyage of study in 1813. Full of enthusiasm for her profession, she was deeply frustrated initially by her lack of opportunity to draw even from nude sculptures: "How I crawl along a wide road when I could run."90 Her mother, who chaperoned her when she went to draw at the Louvre, refused to allow her to copy undraped statues. Romilly wrote to Massot and asked him to intercede: "...Persuade Maman to let me make the proper studies, I don't need to tell you that my intention is certainly not to place myself above public opinion nor to offend modesty in the least, but [illegible]! All in all, tell me what you think fitting."91

Romilly considered enrolling in one of the ateliers led by the major artists of the period, where women as well as men were permitted to practice life drawing from the nude model. She mentioned David, Guérin, and Regnault as artists whose ateliers she had considered joining, so it is likely that by 1813 all three permitted female students to participate in regular studio sessions. Ultimately, though, she drew back at the thought of drawing from the nude in mixed company:

I can't go into a Studio because there are men and women models in all of them and I confess to you that I could never take it on myself to draw that way, and to lose the right to blush, because when a woman has done male nudes how can she boast of any decency and modesty, you have to soil everything [?] in learning not to lose sight of the destination of a woman; you must find my reasoning totally ridiculous for an artist who shouldn't consider anything but her art, her success, and her glory. But think about it, nude men, nude women, and in the presence of other men and women, and then let me tell you that the women who go to these studios aren't regarded like the others, and I'm not going to put myself in their case.92

Romilly seems to have been inhibited not only by the social stigmas faced by female artists who practiced life drawing, but equally by her fear of breaking the canons of behavior that had been instilled in her as a proper young lady of her era. Scholars studying French women writers of this era have made it clear how deeply middle- and upper-class French women internalized Rousseau's definition of the ideal woman, whose dignity was in being "ignored," i.e., being unknown outside her family circle; whose glory was "in the esteem of her husband;" and whose pleasures were "in the happiness of her family."93 Women were flattered by central aspects of Rousseau's philosophy that gave them a prominent role as the moral arbiter of the family and nurturer, guardian and educator of the children. Yet their proud acceptance of these duties as their "natural" function, made it difficult for them to dissent from restrictions on female behavior that were part and parcel of this worldview.94 Even the noted author and educator Stéphanie de Genlis expressed fears that education for women might make them unsatisfied with their role as wives and mothers, and argued that study and writing would take them away from domestic duties. It was only later in her career that she developed the self-confidence to ask why women should be barred from authorship.95

Achieving public prominence in any profession was a risk for a woman; wanting or winning publicity was immodest, and immodesty always had the more or less visible subtext of uncontrolled sexuality.96 Consider how much greater was the risk for a woman to become known publicly as someone who studied from the nude alongside men. Not only did she become known outside her family circle, but she became known for an activity that would seem particularly apt to threaten her modesty and chastity. She would have true reason to worry as Romilly did that she would no longer be able to claim "any decency or modesty."

The example of the German artist Dorothea Lisiewska-Therbusch, who visited Paris half a century earlier, is instructive in this regard. Therbusch painted a half-length portrait of Denis Diderot, who related salaciously how he had undressed for her. While pretending to praise her for her willingness to do everything necessary to be a successful artist, he ensured at the same time that she would be the target of every malicious tongue:

When the head was done, the neck was of concern, which was hidden by the collar of my suit — this disturbed the artist a little. In order to undo this irritation, I went behind a curtain and undressed myself and appeared before her as an academy model. "I did not dare to propose it to you," she said to me, "but you have done well, and I thank you." I was naked, entirely naked. She painted me and we chatted with a freedom and innocence worthy of the first centuries. Since the sin of Adam, we cannot command all our bodily parts like our arms: there are some which are willing when the son of Adam is not, and those that are unwilling when the son of Adam is willing indeed. I would have—if this incident had occurred—recollected the words which Diogenes spoke to the young fighter: "My son, do not be afraid, I am not as wicked as him there."97

The public perception of the portrait and Therbusch herself can be guessed from Diderot's complaint that his interest in the arts was misinterpreted, and that he was "was denounced and regarded as a man who had slept with a not exactly pretty woman."98

Even women such as Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, who limited themselves to depicting female nudes, only showed partial nudity, and were never accused of drawing from the nude in mixed company, found themselves the victim of art critics who made suggestive comments and even hinted lewdly that they used themselves as models.99 Romilly would have had good reason to worry that her name would become the butt of loose talk and scandalous conjecture should she have engaged in an activity considered vastly more scandalous: studying from both male and female nudes, and doing so in a coeducational setting.
She briefly considered hiring models to pose for her privately: "[A]ccording to Mr. Reverdin it's more proper to draw the nude at home because [illegible] there aren't any men around and in the studios you're always mixed...."100 But when Massot inquired later whether she had hired models, the answer was negative.101 Her indignation at his query—she felt that she had made clear to him that she had completely given up the idea of drawing nudes—is more than annoyance at believing he had not carefully read her letters. Writing only a few days before her departure from Paris, she was probably regretting lost opportunities, even if she hadn't admitted it to herself.
What about women who did grasp the opportunities that were available? Documented nude studies by female artists of this era are rare. Possibly the earliest known example may be a drawing of a standing male nude, seen from the rear. It was made in 1786 by Marie-Anne Pierrette Lavoisier, wife of the famous chemist and pupil of Jacques-Louis David. Although the image could have been copied after an engraving, it is equally plausible that it was made from life.102
click to see larger image

Fig. 2. Pauline Auzou, Study of a seated female nude, her head turned to the right, and a subsidiary study of her head. Black and white chalks on blue paper. With Tim D. Wright Master Drawings, Los Angeles, CA, in 2000.
The artist Pauline Auzou (1775–1835) also drew a number of studies after male and female nudes. Some have appeared on the art market in recent years (fig. 2). According to Vivian Cameron, who signaled the existence of the life drawings in 1984, the genitals of the male models were probably covered in some way (just as Antoine Renou had claimed in 1785) because they are never clearly delineated.103 The studies are undated, and it is not clear where they were made. One possibility might be the women's studio run by artist Jean-Baptiste Regnault where Auzou studied during the French Revolution.104 But of course Auzou could have worked in own studio (she taught for some 20 years), or in another location.

It would be interesting to know whether undraped life study by women continued in the more conservative social climate that followed the Restoration. Access to systematic anatomical study seems to have lasted at least through 1812, the year in which a writer in the Mercure de France complained that people shouldn't be so eager to teach a young girl

what the beautiful proportions of the human body consist of, to instruct her in the form and functions of each of the muscles that compose it, to identify for her the femur and the sacrum and the pubis, and so many other pretty things of which the study seems to me nothing less than edifying. What shall I say of these amphitheaters where our demoiselles artists come each day to enjoy the charming spectacle of a cadaver denuded of its epidermis, and cut apart with all possible grace and dexterity by the scalpel of the demonstrator?105

Little research has been done on the period immediately postdating the Empire. Several works painted by French women artists during the 1820s suggest that their authors still found opportunities to make studies from nude models. Consider, for instance, Sophie Rude's Ariane abandonée dans l'île de Naxos, of 1826 (Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts), which features a female nude with light veiling over the legs; or Angélique Mongez's Les Sept Chefs thébains, of 1826 (Angers, Musée des Beaux-Arts), in which several of the life-size male figures are nude. Women artists could have attended a drawing school like one lithographed by Jean-Henri Marlet in the early 1820s. Most of the 10 men and five women in attendance are busy drawing a muscular male model who is scantily attired in a pair of short drawers.106

The option of private study from the nude probably remained also. A lithograph by Langlumé of around 1820 caricatured the practice. A decrepit professor attired in the outmoded tailcoat and buckled shoes of the ancien régime supervises the work of a female pupil who is painting from the nude. We observe her from behind the back of the swaybacked male model, whose unclothed frontal view is hidden from us but not her. His unheroic appearance belies the minatory words of the professor: "Remember that you are painting history."107
However, the unusual access to coeducational anatomy and life study permitted to women during the Revolution and First Empire probably was ultimately repressed. During the late-nineteenth-century debates about the propriety of women's admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, no one seems to have remembered that the male students of the École had studied anatomy in women's presence nearly a century before. The early existence of coeducational life classes in private studios appears to have been totally forgotten as well.108 Even today, the fact that women studied the nude in mixed-sex settings as early as the 1770s remains virtually unknown.109 This is perhaps not surprising; those who resist social change tend to be more vocal than those who accept it. The historian's duty is to ensure that the rhetoric of the former is not allowed to hide historical fact.

Note: Some of the material in this article previously appeared in abbreviated form in the author's unpublished doctoral dissertation (Margaret A. Oppenheimer, "Women Artists in Paris, 1791–1814," [Ph.D. diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1996]). Since then the findings have been cited by Gen Doy in Women and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century France 1800-1852 (London and New York: Leicester University Press, 1998), 97–98, and in Doy's "Hidden from Histories: Women History Painters in Early Nineteenth-Century France," Art and the Academy in the Nineteenth Century, Rafael Cardoso Denis and Colin Trodd, eds. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 73–74, but have yet to receive extended treatment.

I would like to express my gratitude to two anonymous reviewers at Women's History Review, one at Art Bulletin, and one at Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, who commented on earlier versions of this article.
Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine.

1. Summary of a letter from the Administration of Seine et Oise to the Minister of the Interior, 3 frimaire an 8, in Archives Nationales (hereafter abbreviated as "A.N."), F 190.

2. Summary of a letter submitted to the Minister to be signed on 15 frimaire an 8 (December 5, 1799), in A.N. F 4482; Jacquemont, chief of the 5th Division of the Ministry of the Interior, to Renou, the provisional superintendent of the Écoles nationales de Peinture et de Sculpture, 19 frimaire an 8 (December 9, 1799), in A.N. AJ52–58; Summary of a letter from the Minister of the Interior to the Administration of Seine et Oise, 14 nivôse an 8 (January 3, 1800), in A.N., F 4482. The letter from Jacquemont to Renou is published in Pierre Vallery-Radot, Chirurgiens d'autrefois: La famille de Éugène Süe (Paris: R.G. Ricou & Ocia, 1944), 106–7, but misdated to the period of the Terror.

3. Frances Borzello, A World of Our Own: Women as Artists Since the Renaissance (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2000), 31, 63–64, 115–16.

4. Dominique Godineau, Madelyn Gutwirth, Carla Hesse, Joan B. Landes, Dorinda Outram, Londa Schiebinger, Mary D. Sheriff, Martin S. Staum, and Liselotte Steinbrügge are some of the prominent authors that have explored these and other aspects of the "woman question" since the beginning of the 1980s.

5. As Linda Nochlin has written, a woman artist must "have a good strong streak of rebellion in her to make her way in the world of art at all, rather than submitting to the socially approved role of wife and mother, the only role to which every social institution consigns her automatically." See "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971)" in Linda Nochlin, Women, Art, and Power and Other Essays (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), 170.

6. Anatole de Montaiglon, Procès-verbaux de l'Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture 1648-1793 (Paris: Charavay Frères, 1888), 8:184–86.

7. Ibid., 185.

8. Ibid., 186.

9. Nicholas Mirzoeff, "Revolution, Representation, Equality: Gender, Genre, and Emulation in the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture," Eighteenth-Century Studies 31 (1997–98): 160–61; Candace Clements, "The Academy and the Other: Les Graces et Le Genre Galant," Eighteenth-Century Studies 25, no. 4 (Summer 1992): 474.

10. Clements, "The Academy and the Other," 476.

11. Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 105–6.

12. This letter of June 14, 1785 and three of four additional epistles that it inspired have been rediscovered and reprinted by Laura Auricchio in an appendix to her dissertation. See Laura Elizabeth Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety: Adélaide Labille-Guiard and the Careers of Professional Women Artists in Late Eighteenth-Century Paris", (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2000), 318–23.

13. "Arts. Peinture. Exposition de Tableaux à la Place Dauphine," Journal Général de France, 14 juin 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 318. A "société académique"—literally, an "academic society"—referred to a group of private individuals gathered together to make "académies," i.e., studies of the nude figure. There is not an ideal English equivalent to the phrase.

14. Jean Claude Bologne, Histoire de la pudeur (Paris: Éditions Olivier Orban, 1986), 315.

15. Bologne, Histoire de la pudeur, 315.

16. "Arts. A l'Auteur du Journal," Journal Général de France, juillet 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 320. The publication date given in Auricchio is simply "July 1785," so it is not clear exactly when the letter appeared, but it was written on July 1, according to its heading ("Paris, 1 juillet 1785").

17. "Arts. A l'Auteur du Journal," juillet 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 320, and "Arts. Peinture. A l'Auteur du Journal," Journal Général de France, 28 juillet 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 322. According to its heading, the letter published on July 28 was written on July 22, 1785.

18. Two of the four female Academy Members—miniaturist Marie-Thérèse Vien and still-life painter Anne Vallayer-Coster—are not known to have been teaching at this time. Consequently, the writer must have been referring to either Labille-Guiard or the famous portrait painter, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Of the two, Labille-Guiard was much better known as a teacher.

19. "Arts. Peinture," 28 juillet 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 322–23.

20. Labille-Guiard let criticisms of her paintings pass in silence, but is known to have defended herself proactively against slanders to her virtue on at least one other occasion. See Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 121–25. Auricchio does not speculate on who the Dame Artist referred to in the letters might have been. However, if she were indeed Labille-Guiard, it is worth wondering whether the controversy prompted her to the defensive measure of adding a statuette of a vestal virgin to the background of the self-portrait with two pupils that she would soon exhibit at the Salon of 1785 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art).

21. Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1989), 247.

22. [Antoine] Renou, "Arts. Aux Auteurs du Journal," Journal de Paris, no. 190 (9 juillet 1785), 787–89.

23. Renou, "Arts. Aux Auteurs du Journal," 788. Presumably the models wore G-strings.

24. Ibid.

25. Mme Roslin, née Marie Suzanne Giroust, was a talented painter of portraits in pastel. She died of breast cancer at age 38 in 1772 (Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950 [Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1989], 39).

26. Renou, "Arts, Aux Auteurs du Journal," 788–89. Auricchio does not publish this letter from Renou, but did locate a reply to it (from the moralist who had started the debate) that she includes in her appendix. See "Arts. Peinture," Journal Général de France, 16 juillet 1785, in Auricchio, "Portraits of Impropriety," 321–22.

27. Madelyn Gutwirth has described how, by the 1780s, women in France had become the focus of societal worries over high infant mortality, infidelity, prostitution, and male abandonment of paternal responsibilities. Although men were encouraged to marry and to be better fathers, the brunt of the responsibility for reversing the perceived breakdown of the family was assigned to women; they came under increasing pressure to breast feed their infants, properly educate their children, be virtuous spouses, and maintain a happy home that would prevent their husbands from straying from their marriage vows. See Madelyn Gutwirth, The Twilight of the Goddesses: Women and Representation in the French Revolutionary Era (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 50, 59, 213–14, 345–48.

28. Journal des Arts, de Littérature et de Commerce, no. 18, 30 vendémiaire an 8, 12.

29. Carla Hesse, The Other Enlightenment: How French Women Became Modern (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001), 42–43.

30. Lettres analitiques, critiques et philosophiques, sur les tableaux du Sallon (Paris, L'an troisième de la Liberté – 1791), in Collection de pieces sur les beaux-arts (1673-1808), known as Collection Deloynes, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie; (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1981), microfiche,17:440, 406, 422. I am indebted to the work of Vivian Cameron for this reference (Vivian Cameron, "Woman as Image and Image-Maker in Paris During the French Revolution," [Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1984], 79). The journalist's words have been quoted occasionally since Cameron first rediscovered them, but authors citing them have done so without expressing an opinion on them or exploring whether the activities described could actually have taken place. See Mirzoeff, "Revolution, Representation, Equality, 167; Joan B. Landes, Visualizing the Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001), 15.

31. Lettres analitiques, critiques et philisophiques, 440, 406–7.

32. Benoist (1768–1826) exhibited regularly at the Paris Salons, was awarded a lodging at the Louvre, and received a number of government commissions. Ducreux (1761–1802) exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondence in 1785 and the Paris Salons in the 1790s. Her work showed considerable promise, but she died young of typhoid fever.

33. Mirzoeff, "Revolution, Representation, Equality," 161–62.

34. From article 6 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of August 26, 1789.

35. [Charles-Paul] Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 145 (25 pluviôse an 7): 638–39; Journal de Paris, no. 191 (11 germinal an 7): 844–45.

36. Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 145, 639; Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 191, 844.

37. Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 191, 844.

38. "Cours d'anatomie pittoresque pour les citoyens qui se livrent à l'étude des arts d'imitation," Gazette Nationale ou Le Moniteur universel, no. 110 (20 nivôse an 9): 448; Vallery-Radot, Chirurgiens d'autrefois, 108, 111–12.

39. "Programme d'un cours d'histoire naturelle des corps vivans, considérés comparativement depuis la plante jusqu'à l'homme," Gazette Nationale ou Le Moniteur universel, no. 46 (16 brumaire an 9): 180. A long-time supporter of women in the arts, Süe included a defense of female artists in the forward to the book of anatomical plates for artists that he published in 1788. See [Jean-Joseph] Süe, Le Fils, Eléments d'anatomie à l'usage des peintres, des sculpteurs, et des amaeurs, ornés de quatorze Planches en taille-douce, représentant au natural tous les Os de l'Adulte & ceux de l'Enfant du premier âge, avec leur explication (Paris: Chez l'Auteur, 1788), 1:vi. Whether he or his father Jean-Joseph Süe the Elder, who also taught anatomy, had women artists among their students before the Revolution is unknown. But asking ourselves why he might insert an elegy to women artists into a book of anatomical plates, we might wonder if he had been criticized for admitting women to his courses, and was indirectly defending himself by praising their talents.

40. Landon refers to courses offered by the painter Gerardus van Spaendonck at the Jardin des Plantes (part of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle). The students learned to draw plants and animals.

41. Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 191, 844.

42. Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," Journal de Paris, no. 145, 639. Landon indicates that 26 women artists exhibited at the Salon of 1798, but a careful examination of the livret (Salon catalogue) reveals that there were 27.

43. Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? , 156. In a broader sense, the words call to mind Revolutionary condemnation of the monarchy as a regime corrupted by women who gained political power by granting sexual favors. See Dorinda Outram, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class and Political Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989), 125.

44. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (by 1795), Marie-Guillelmine Benoist (by 1795), Caroline Delestre (by 1794), and Marie-Geneviève Bouliar (by 1797). Other women artists who lived at the Louvre included Anne Vallayer-Coster, who had had a lodging since 1780; Marie-Gabrielle Capet, who shared her teacher Labille-Guiard's lodging; Marguérite Gérard, who shared the lodging awarded to her brother-in-law Jean Honoré Fragonard and his family; and Rose Ducreux, who had a studio constructed with the help of government funds within her father Joseph's Louvre lodging. See Oppenheimer, "Women Artists in Paris," 70–72.

45. Marc Furcy-Raynaud, Procès-verbaux des assemblées du jury élu par les artistes exposants au Salon de 1791 pour la distribution des prix d'encouragement (Paris: Jean Schemit, 1906), 69, 85.

46. Mercure de France, September 1795, 336.

47. Mercure de France (floréal, an 7), 53.

48. Journal des Arts, de Littérature et de Commerce, no. 20 (10 brumaire an 8), 7–10.

49. See Oppenheimer, "Women Artists in Paris," especially Chapter 3.

50. Similarly, the growing number of women practicing writing professionally in the later eighteenth century resulted in an increase in diatribes against and satires about women authors. See Dominique Godineau, Les femmes dans la société française 16e-18e siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 2003), 191; Elizabeth Colwill, "Laws of Nature/Rights of Genius: The Drame of Constance de Salm," in Elizabeth C. Goldsmith and Dena Goodman, eds, Going Public: Women and Publishing in Early Modern France (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 234; L. Ginguené, ed., Oeuvres de Ponce Denis (Écouchard) Le Brun (Paris: Chez Gabriel Warée, Libraire, 1811), 1:368–69; 3:346–47, 350–51, 354–56; S—-M—[Sylvain Maréchal], Projet d'une loi portant défense d'apprendre aux femmes (Paris: Chez Massé, Editeur, an 9-1801).

51. A.L. Millin, Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts (Paris: Chez Desray, 1806), 607–8.

52. Pascal Duris, Linné et la France (1780-1850) (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1993), 182; James Edward Smith, A Sketch of a Tour in the Continent, in the Years 1786 and 1787 (London, 1793), 117.

53. Ann B. Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 19.

54. [Jean-Jacques Rousseau], La Botanique de J.J. Rousseau, ornés de soixante-cinq planches, imprimées en couleurs d'après des peintures de J. Redouté (Paris: Delachaussée and Garnery, XIV = 1805), 29. In Émile, ou De l'éducation, Rousseau recommended that girls be taught to draw "leaves, fruit, flowers, draperies, anything that will make an elegant trimming for the accessories of the toilet, and enables the girl to design her own embroidery if she cannot find a pattern to her taste," but he advised against instruction in landscape or figure painting. See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, trans. Barbara Foxley (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1963), 331.

55. Jean Loquin, "La lutte des critiques d'art contre les portraitistes au XVIIIe siècle," Archives de l'art français, new period, 7 (1913): 309–10.

56. Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel, Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette, exh. cat. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 2002), 18.

57. Marcia Pointon, Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture 1665-1800 (Oxford University Press, 1997), 133.

58. The four women were: Anne Vallayer-Coster and Iphigénie Milet-Mureau, both artists of considerable skill; the Citoyenne Bonneuil, who exhibited in a single occasion in 1795; and Mme Peigné, who exhibited only once in Paris, in 1799, but produced images of flowers for the Oberkampf textile factory in Jouy.

59. Anna Cléophile, "Réponse d'une Femme artiste aux deux Articles du citoyen Landon, peintre, insérés dans le Journal de Paris, les 25 Pluviôse & 11 Germinal an 7," Journal de Paris, no. 218 (8 floréal an 7): 959.

60. [Charles-Paul] Landon, "Résponse à un Article d'une Femme Artiste, inséré dans la F.lle du 8 floréal," Journal de Paris, no. 230 (20 floréal an 7): 1011–12.

61. Ibid., 1012.

62. Quoted in Mechthild Fend, "Bodily and Pictorial Surfaces: Skin in French Art and Medicine, 1790-1860," Art History 28, no. 3 (June 2005): 328.

63. A jab at Jacques-Louis David, who was sometimes criticized for the immense scale of his history paintings such as The Intervention of the Sabine Women, 1799, 3.85 x 5.22 meters (Musée du Louvre).

64. Another reference to David, who was loaned the church of the former convent of the Feuillants in which to paint his Oath at the Jeu de Paume (unfinished; sketch at the Musée National du Château de Versailles).

65. The décade was the ten-day week of the Revolutionary calendar, used in France from 1793 until 1806.

66. The Jouy factory was well known for its printed textiles.

67. Ledoux, "Au citoyen Landon, peintre, auteur de plusieurs articles, sur les femmes artistes, insérés dans le journal de Paris," Journal des Arts, de Littérature et de Commerce, no. 1 (5 thermidor an 7), 1–3.

68. Rudolph and Margot Wittkower, Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists: A Documented History from Antiquity to the French Revolution (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963), 99, 101.

69. Roger Duchêne, Écrire au temps de Mme de Sévigné:Lettres et texte litéraire (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1982), 78.

70. [François] Fénelon, The Education of Girls, trans. Kate Lupton (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1891), 12.

71. Ferville, Le méchanceté des femmes (1618), cited in: Ian Maclean, Woman Triumphant: Feminism in French Literature 1610-1652 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 48 n. 110. A similar sentiment was expressed in the 1770s in Léonard Thomas's Essai sur les femmes. Liselotte Steinbrügge reports that Thomas found woman incapable "of philosophical reflection because her mind, dominated by a multiplicity of impressions [was] too inclined to jump back and forth between objects instead of focusing on one at a time in order to reach more profound insights" (Liselotte Steinbrügge, The Moral Sex: Women's Nature in the French Enlightenment, trans. Pamela E. Selwyn [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995], 38).

72. Desmahis, "FEMME," in Diderot and d'Alembert, eds., Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres (Paris, 1756), 6:472.

73. Martin S. Staum, Cabanis: Enlightenment and Medical Philosophy in the French Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 215. Cabanis' Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme appeared in 1802, but the doctor had already delivered a series of papers to the Institut de France in 1796–97 that contained much of the material that would appear in the treatise. The papers were published between 1798 and 1801.

74. Fénelon, The Education of Girls, 12.

75. Godineau, Les femmes dans la société française, 146, 191; Maréchal, Projet d'une loi, 13, no. 31.

76. Godineau, Les femmes dans la société française, 191 (quoting from Restif de la Bretonne's Les Gynographes ou la femme réformée of 1777).

77. Maréchal, Projet d'une loi, 13, no. 31.

78. Roger L. Williams, Botanophilia in Eighteenth-Century France: The Spirit of the Enlightenment (Dordrecht, Boston, and London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), 95.

79. Janet Browne, "Botany for Gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and The Loves of the Plants," in Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, ed., History of Women in the Sciences: Readings from Isis (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 104.

80. Duris, Linné et la France, 187.

81. Ibid.

82. Ibid., 188.

83. Dominique Julia, Les trois couleurs du tableau noir: La Révolution (Paris: Éditions Belin, 1981), 312; Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex, 224, 227.

84. Le Beau, "Au citoyen Landon, qui prétend que les femmes ne doivent point étudier la peinture de la même manière que les hommes," Journal des Arts, de Littérature et de Commerce, no. 4 (20 thermidor an 7), 13–14.

85. Richard Wrigley, The Origins of French Art Criticism from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 287.

86. Ibid., 298.

87. "Observations de Polyscope sur le Salon de peinture et de sculpture," 1796, in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Coll. Deloynes, XVIII, pièce 487, quoted in Jean-François Heim, Claire Béraud, and Philippe Heim, Les Salons de peinture de la révolution française, 1789–1799 (Paris: C.A.C. Sarl.Édition, 1989), 58.

88. Landon, "Sur les Femmes Artistes," 639.

89. Geneva, 1788–1875. Known as Amélie Munier-Romilly after her marriage in 1821, she had a long career as a portraitist in chalk, pastel, and oil.

90. Letters from Amélie Munier-Romilly to Firmin Massot, Papiers Munier, Ms.fr. 3210, fol. 51v, Geneva, Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire.

91. Ibid, fol. 52.

92. Ibid., fol. 64–64v.

93. Catherine Cusset, "Rousseau's Legacy: Glory and Femininity at the End of the Eighteenth Century: Sophie Cottin and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun," in Femmes savantes et femmes d'esprit: Women Intellectuals of the Eighteenth Century, ed. by Roland Bonnel and Catherine Rubinger (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1994), 402, quoting from Rousseau's Émile, ou De l'Éducation.

94. Gutwirth, The Twilight of the Goddesses, 215 and 407 n. 8.

95. Mary Trouille, "Eighteenth-Century Amazons of the Pen: Stéphanie de Genlis & Olympe de Gouges," in: Femmes savantes et femmes d'esprit, 363–64.

96. Outram, The Body and the French Revolution, 133.

97. Quoted in the English translation used here in Angela Rosenthal, "She's Got the Look! Eighteenth-century Female Portrait Painters and the Psychology of a Potentially 'Dangerous Employment,'" in Portraiture: Facing the Subject, ed. by Joanna Woodall (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), 155.

98. Quoted in Rosenthal, "She's Got the Look!," 155.

99. Wendy Wassyng Roworth, "Anatomy is Destiny: Regarding the Body in the Art of Angelica Kuffman," in Gil Perry and Michael Rossington, eds., Femininity and Masculinity in EighteenthCcentury Art and Culture (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994), 2.

100. Letters from Amélie Munier-Romilly to Firmin Massot, fol. 63. M. Reverdin acted as her sponsor during her stay in Paris, advising her on artistic matters and introducing her to prominent artists. He is probably to be identified with the portrait painter and draftsman Gédéon-François Reverdin, who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in his native Geneva and with Jacques-Louis David in Paris.

101. Letters from Amélie Munier-Romilly to Firmin Massot, fol. 96.

102. The drawing, in the collection of the Musée National des Techniques in Paris, is reproduced in Madeleine Pinault Sørensen, "Madame Lavoisier, dessinatrice et peintre," La revue (Musée des arts et métiers) no. 6 (March 1994), 24.

103. Cameron, "Woman as Image and Image-maker," 76–77, and 362, n 57.

104. Cameron indicates that some of the drawings were mounted on heavy paper and numbered, and suggests that this could indicate that they were exhibited with drawings by other students. Ibid., 78.

105. Letter from 'Le Franc, amateur,' in S. Delpech, "Salon de 1812," Mercure de France, Dec. 1812, 448–49. As the letter was incorporated into Delpech's review, Le Franc may well have been a fiction, serving as a cover for jibes at women artists that Delpech preferred to make anonymously.

106. [Jean-Henri] Marlet, Nouveaux Tableaux de Paris (Paris, chez Mrs Marlet, Martine, Emery, et Pillet, n.d.).

107. The caricature is illustrated in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, February 1914, 143.

108. For the debates of the 1880s and 90s, during which much of the rhetoric about women artists resembled that declaimed circa 1800, see Marina Sauer, L'Entrée des femmes à l'École des Beaux-Arts: 1880-1923 (Paris: École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1990) and Tamar Garb, Sisters of the Brush: Women's Artistic Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), 89–104.

109. Borzello, A World of Our Own, 93.

 

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