Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter

Marie Victoire Lemoine (French, Paris 1754–1820 Paris)
Oil on canvas
45 7/8 x 35 in. (116.5 x 88.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Thorneycroft Ryle, 1957
Accession Number:
Not on view
The most important exhibitions in eighteenth-century Paris were the Salons, in general held every other year, and open only to artists associated with the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. After the French Revolution the Académie was abolished, and meanwhile the Salon of 1791 was open to all contenders. This canvas, which is dated 1789, is by Marie Victoire Lemoine, one of many women artists who later emerged into public view. It is identified quite certainly with a painting she exhibited in 1796, and accordingly the title is drawn from the hand list for the exhibition.
Born in Paris in 1754, Marie Victoire Lemoine had two sisters—Marie Élisabeth Gabiou (d. 1811/14) and Marie Denise Villers (1774–1821)—who were also artists. Marie Victoire seems to have been the oldest and reportedly she studied with the history painter François Guillaume Ménageot (1744–1816), who returned to Paris from Rome in 1775 to become a full academician in 1781. Ménageot rented an apartment in a house belonging to the husband of the portraitist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), with whose work Lemoine must have been familiar. She exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondance in 1779 and 1785, and at the Salon intermittently from 1796 to 1804 and in 1814.

This may be Lemoine’s most significant work if, as is widely believed, it is the one she sent to the Salon of 1796, where it was exhibited as number 284, Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter. In 1791 the Salon, previously open only to members of the Académie (whose number included as few as four women), became for the first time a public venue. Lemoine did not seize the first opportunity but five years later showed several miniatures and three paintings, all figure subjects. According to the exhibition list, Interior of an Atelier measured four by three and a half pieds, or 130 by 113.7 centimeters. The size differs from that of the present canvas, but the difference could be accounted for simply as an error or if the frame was included, either of which is possible. Our present knowledge of Lemoine’s oeuvre is limited to no more than thirty works, mostly half- or three-quarter-length portraits or allegorical figures of women, a number of which are signed and several of which are close in style to Interior of an Atelier. Additionally the picture is said to have descended in the family of the artist, who was to all intents unknown when it came on the art market in 1920, so that her name would not at that time have constituted an inducement.

In 1926 Wildenstein lent the picture to an exhibition in Paris and it was provided with a subtitle in the catalogue that translates "Madame Vigée-Lebrun in her studio giving a lesson to her pupil Mademoiselle Lemoine." Since then, the picture has often been described either as a portrait of or as an homage to Vigée. However, as Lemoine is not known to have studied with Vigée, as the two artists were the same age, and as such an interpretation was not advanced by any contemporary critic, this seems unlikely.

[Katharine Baetjer 2012]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left, below edge of skirt): M. Vicre Lemoine 1789 [the re is raised above the line]
by descent in the artist's family (until 1920; sold through Trotti to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1920–37; sold to Ryle]; Mrs. Thorneycroft Ryle, New York (1937–57)
Paris. Salon. 1796, no. 284 (as "L'intérieur d'un attelier de femme, peintre. Tableau de 4 pieds sur 3 et demi. [130 x 113.7 cm]" by "Citoyenne Lemoine [Marie V.]").

Paris. Hôtel des Négociants. "Femmes peintres du XVIIIème siècle," May 14–June 6, 1926, no. 68 (as "L'intérieur d'un atelier de femme-peintre [Mme Vigée-Lebrun dans son atelier donnant une leçon à son élève Mlle Lemoine]," lent by MM. Wildenstein).

Cincinnati Art Museum. "French Paintings of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," 1937, no. 14 (lent by Wildenstein, New York).

Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum. "Pictures within Pictures," November 9–December 31, 1949, no. 27 (lent by Wildenstein, New York).

Milwaukee Art Center. "The Inner Circle," September 15–October 23, 1966, no. 61.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Portrait of the Artist," January 18–March 7, 1972, no. 14.

Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery. "Old Mistresses: Women Artists of the Past," April 17–June 18, 1972, no. 15.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," December 21, 1976–March 13, 1977, no. 57.

Austin. University Art Museum, University of Texas. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," April 12–June 12, 1977, no. 57.

Pittsburgh. Carnegie Institute. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," July 14–September 4, 1977, no. 57.

Brooklyn Museum. "Women Artists, 1550–1950," October 8–November 27, 1977, no. 57.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," December 12, 1981–September 5, 1982, unnumbered cat. (p. 53).

Chapel Hill, N.C. Ackland Art Museum. "One Picture Exhibition," January 30–April 24, 1994, no catalogue.

Stockholm. Nationalmuseum. "Stolthet & Fördom: Kvinna och konstnär i Frankrike och Sverige 1750–1860," September 27, 2012–January 20, 2013, no. 32.

Paris. Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," September 23, 2015–January 11, 2016, no. 38.

Émile Bellier de la Chavignerie continued by Louis Auvray. Dictionnaire général des artistes de l'école française depuis l'origine des arts du dessin jusqu'à nos jours: Architectes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs et lithographes. Vol. 1, Paris, 1882, p. 998.

André Linzeler. "L'exposition des femmes peintres du XVIIIe siècle." Beaux-arts 4 (June 1926), pp. 161–62, ill.

Charles Oulmont. Les femmes peintres du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1928, pl. 58.

Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 23, Leipzig, 1929, p. 34.

David Ojalvo. "Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans: Peintures des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles." Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 22 (1972), p. 333.

Old Mistresses: Women Artists of the Past. Exh. cat., Joaneath Spicer. Baltimore, 1972, no. 15, as painted before the Revolution.

M. Brawley Hill. Women: A Historical Survey of Works by Women Artists. Exh. cat., Salem Fine Arts Center. [Raleigh], 1972, pp. X–XI, ill.

Vivian P. Cameron. Letter to Mary Ann W. Harris. October 4, 1974, suggests that Lemoine painted this picture shortly after 1783; believes the history painting on the easel may reflect Vigée's desire to be known as a history painter.

Joseph Baillio. Letter to Mary Ann Wurth Harris. April 5, 1975, finds that the artist bears some resemblance to Vigée Le Brun, especially to her self-portrait "à l'antique" of 1789, but wonders if the identification may have been based on the costume, a type that Vigée made famous; finds no resemblance in the seated figure to Lemoine, who "appears to have been quite blond".

Jean Cailleux. Letter to Mary Ann Wuth Harris. March 3, 1975, believes this might be the picture exhibited in 1796 and accounts for the discrepancy in dimensions by observing that catalogues of the Revolutionary years were "badly done"; dates the costume 1790 at the earliest.

Stella Blum. Memorandum to Mimi Harris. May 27, 1975, dates the costumes to the 1790s.

Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin in Women Artists: 1550–1950. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. New York, 1976, pp. 188–89, no. 57, ill., as "Interior of the Atelier of a Woman Painter," after the title in the 1796 Salon; point out that at the time Lemoine was 42 and Vigée Le Brun 41, proving that if this picture is to be read as portraits of the women, they are idealized.

Mary D. Garrard. "Women Artists in Los Angeles." Burlington Magazine 119 (July 1977), p. 531.

Donna G. Bachmann and Sherry Piland. Women Artists: An Historical, Contemporary and Feminist Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J., 1978, p. 127.

Germaine Greer. The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work. New York, 1979, pp. 270–71, ill., notes that the figure of Vigée Le Brun resembles a sketch of the artist with Marie-Guilhelmine Leroulx de la Ville by David; regards it as a "propagandistic gesture" that may have played some role in the petition to return Vigée Le Brun to Paris after the Revolution.

Joseph Baillio. "Marie-Antoinette et ses enfants par Mme. Vigée Le Brun." L'Oeil 308 (March 1981), p. 75 n. 39.

Christine Havice. "In a Class by Herself: 19th Century Images of the Woman Artist as Student." Woman's Art Journal 2 (Spring/Summer 1981), p. 40 n. 8.

Joseph Baillio. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum. Fort Worth, 1982, p. 14.

Edith Krull. Women in Art. London, 1986, p. 132, ill.

Jean-François Heim, Claire Béraud, and Philippe Heim. Les salons de peinture de la Révolution française, 1789–1799. Paris, 1989, p. 273.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: Mémoires d'une portraitiste, 1755–1842. Paris, 1989, ill. p. 136 (color).

Margaret A. Oppenheimer. "Nisa Villers, née Lemoine (1774–1821)." Gazette des beaux-arts 127 (April 1996), p. 166.

Joseph Baillio. "Vie et oeuvre de Marie Victoire Lemoine (1754–1820)." Gazette des beaux-arts 127 (April 1996), pp. 125, 134–36, 154–55, 164, no. 30, ill. on cover (color detail) and figs. 13, 13a–c (overall and details), describes this picture as between portrait and genre painting; observes that the dress of the artist corresponds to Vigée Le Brun's attire before the Revolution, and that the student's clothing appears to date to the second half of the 1780s; suggests that if executed right before the Salon of 1796, the painting was meant to recall an earlier time.

Margaret A. Oppenheimer. "Women Artists in Paris, 1791–1814." PhD diss., Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1996, p. 224 n. 366, ill., refutes the notion that it should be regarded as a tribute to Vigée Le Brun and points out that there is no evidence Lemoine studied with her; finds that the features of the instructor in this picture resemble those of Lemoine in her Orléans "self-portrait".

Mary D. Sheriff in Dictionary of Women Artists. Ed. Delia Gaze. London, 1997, vol. 2, pp. 837–38, given the discrepancy in the ages of teacher and pupil, finds it unlikely that the pupil is a self-portrait of Lemoine; concedes, however, that the image could "hint at some direct, even formative, contact between the two women artists".

Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits. New York, 1998, pp. 83–84, 86, ill. (color), regards this picture as a tribute to Vigée Le Brun; compares it to works by Louis-Léopold Boilly and Marguerite Gérard that depict women artists in their studios.

Renate Berger in Zwischen Ideal und Wirklichkeit: Künstlerinnen der Goethe-Zeit zwischen 1750 und 1850. Ed. Bärbel Kovalevski. Exh. cat., Schlossmuseum, Gotha. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 1999, pp. 17, 27–28, ill.

Liana De Girolami Cheney, Alicia Craig Faxon, and Kathleen Lucey Russo. Self-Portraits by Women Painters. Aldershot, England, 2000, pp. 126, 208, fig. VI.13.

Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, p. 74, fig. 76 (color).

Astrid Reuter. Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist: Gestaltungsräume einer Künstlerin um 1800. Berlin, 2002, pp. 93–94, ill.

Claire Barry in Eik Kahng and Marianne Roland Michel. Anne Vallayer-Coster: Painter to the Court of Marie-Antoinette. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington. Dallas, 2002, p. 101, calls the picture on the easel an example of the eighteenth-century white-chalk technique.

Britta C. Dwyer. "Book reviews [review of Borzello 1998]." Woman's Art Journal 23 (Spring–Summer 2002), p. 43.

Gerrit Walczak. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. October 7, 2003, considers it a self-portrait of Lemoine, noting that he has not located a single contemporary critique that identifies the artist depicted.

Gerrit Walczak. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. August 3, 2004, believes it is time to drop "the romantic idea" that Vigée Le Brun is represented, as the portrait is closer to that of Lemoine's purported self-portrait in Orléans than it is to any extant self-portraits of Vigée; argues that a portrait of Vigée Le Brun would have caught the attention of art critics in 1796 and this picture did not.

Gerrit Walczak. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun: Eine Künstlerin in der Emigration 1789–1802. Munich, 2004, pp. 42–43, ill., agrees with Baillio that, if the main figure is Vigée Le Brun, then this picture must be interpreted as an attempt to gain sympathy for her with the general public during her exile.

Olivier Blanc. Portraits de femmes artistes et modèles à l'époque de Marie-Antoinette. Paris, 2006, p. 68, ill. p. 62 (color), identifies the standing figure as Marie-Victoire Lemoine, probably giving a lesson to her younger sister, Denise Lemoine.

Laura Auricchio in Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections. Exh. cat., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington. London, 2012, p. 95.

Magnus Olausson in Stolthet & Fördom: Kvinna och konstnär i Frankrike och Sverige 1750–1860. Exh. cat., Nationalmuseum. Stockholm, 2012, p. 160, no. 32, ill. (color).

Marie-Josèphe Bonnet. Liberté, égalité, exclusion: femmes peintres en révolution, 1770–1804. Paris, 2012, pp. 147–48, 198, 202, calls the standing figure Vigée Le Brun and the seated one Lemoine; sees references to the allegorical theme of "pictura"; identifies the painting on the easel as a young woman kneeling before an altar to the goddess Minerva; interprets the subject as a series of homages.

Christiane de Aldecoa. "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun . . . Autoportrait, ou une vie pour la peinture." Cahiers d'Histoire de l'Art no. 12 (2014), pp. 54, 59 n. 5, fig. 5 (color).

Joseph Baillio in Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio and Xavier Salmon. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2015, p. 249, under no. 108.

Stéphane Guégan in Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Ed. Joseph Baillio and Xavier Salmon. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2015, pp. 138–39, 350, no. 38, ill. (color), states that the recently discovered signature and date of 1789, seven years before the picture was exhibited at the Salon, support Baillio's (1996) idea that the work was created as an homage to Vigée Le Brun.

Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits. rev. ed. London, 2016, pp. 93, 97, ill. p. 94 (color).

The signature and the date, difficult to read (the initial V takes the shape of a heart), were brought to our attention by Charlotte Guichard on April 2, 2015.
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