Although painted in 1789, Lemoine could not show this painting at the Salon until 1796, when post-Revolutionary reforms greatly expanded women artists’ access to the privileges of the Académie Royale. The original title suggests an exemplary depiction of women in this profession, but those close to the artist recognized a self-portrait with her sister, Marie-Elisabeth, who was also a painter. Lemoine’s facility in still life and portraiture, categories in which women most often trained, are readily visible, while a history painting—the highest category in the academic system and usually considered in this period as ill-suited to women—is underway on the easel.
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Fig. 1. Detail of signature
Fig. 2. Caspar Schneider, "Watercolorist’s Table," ca. 1787. Oak and mahogany veneer. 29 1/2 × 17 5/16 × 13 3/4 in. (75 × 44 × 35 cm). Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fig. 3. "Watercolorist’s Table," alternate view. Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fig. 4. "Watercolorist’s Table," stamp. Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Title:The Interior of a Woman Painter's Studio
Artist:Marie Victoire Lemoine (French, Paris 1754–1820 Paris)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:45 7/8 x 35 in. (116.5 x 88.9 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Mrs. Thorneycroft Ryle, 1957
The Artist: Born in Paris in 1754, Marie Victoire Lemoine had two sisters—Marie Elisabeth 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 Elisabeth 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.
The Painting: Though it is tempting to read portraiture or self-portraiture into this painting, other features suggest that Lemoine deliberately allegorized women artists. The standing figure seems to embody the art of painting, while the woman sitting on a stool embodies drawing: the chalk outlines of the latter have begun to be brushed in by the former in the partially completed canvas on the easel. That composition echoes the contemporary scene with a representation of a priestess presenting a young woman to a statue of Athena, goddess-protectress of the arts. This is an idealized image that shifts the register into the realm of allegory, even as it dresses them in the trappings of contemporary life from the fashionable clothing to the refined interior and furnishings.
The Paintbox: The mahogany paintbox prominently positioned at lower right was Lemoine’s own, and comparison of a number of works by Lemoine and her sisters indicates that many of the furnishings and the carpet are likely those of the apartment on rue de Richelieu, where Lemoine moved with her sister Marie Elisabeth and brother-in-law the year the painting was executed, 1789. This object descended in the Lemoine family until it was sold at auction in 2019 and purchased by The Met shortly thereafter (see figs. 2–4 above). Stamped by the prominent cabinetmaker (ébéniste) Caspar Schneider, it consists of a detachable box with brass handles containing two zinc compartments. While the contents were largely removed at an unknown date, two cylindrical brass containers remain. The lower portion consists of two drawers and fluted legs that rest on casters that allow the whole table to be easily moved across the floor. Such a luxurious tool attests to the refined character of painters’ self-fashioning in eighteenth-century France, both in how they presented their professional identity in person and, as here, in idealized representation.
Katharine Baetjer 2012; revised David Pullins 2023
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. ?September 22–?October 21, 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.
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, Gras Savoye. "Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun," September 23, 2015–January 11, 2016, no. 38.
Emile 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 inWomen 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.
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: Mémoires d'une portraitiste, 1755–1842. Paris, 1989, ill. p. 136 (color).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 388, ill.
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 inDictionary 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 inZwischen 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 inRoyalists 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 inStolthet & 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 inÉlisabeth 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 inÉlisabeth 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.
Cécile Berly. Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun: Peindre et écrire Marie-Antoinette et son temps. Paris, 2015, p. 36, fig. 7 (color).
Frances Borzello. Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits. rev. ed. London, 2016, pp. 93, 97, ill. p. 94 (color).
Bridget Quinn. Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in that Order). San Francisco, 2017, pp. 56–57, ill. (color).
Amelia Rauser in "From the Studio to the Street: Modelling Neoclassical Dress in Art and Life." Fashion in European Art: Dress and Identity, Politics and the Body, 1775–1925. Ed. Justine De Young. New York, 2017, p. 27, fig. 1.4.
Charlotte Guichard. La griffe du peintre: La valeur de l'art (1730–1820). [Paris], 2018, pp. 205, 207, fig. 57, 57 bis (color, overall and detail).
Yuriko Jackall inMaster Paintings Evening Sale. Sotheby's, New York. January 30, 2019, p. 197, fig. 3 (color).
Neil Jeffares. Minutiae at the Met. March 29, 2019, unpaginated [https://neiljeffares.wordpress.com/2019/03/29/minutiae-at-the-met/], believes that the standing figure is Vigée Le Brun and the pupil Lemoine, the latter identification based in part on a Lemoine self-portrait sold recently (sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 27, 2019, no. 131, ill.).
Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, pp. 347–50, no. 116, ill. (color).
Carol Santoleri in Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, p. 31.
Galina Olmsted. Facing the Revolution: Portraits of Women in France and the United States. Exh. cat., Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. Bloomington, Ind., 2020, unpaginated, fig. 4 (color) [https://artmuseum.indiana.edu/space-of-their-own/].
Amelia Rauser. The Age of Undress: Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s. New Haven, 2020, pp. 28, 193 n. 6 (under "Drape"), fig. 21 (color detail), identifies the standing figure as Vigée Le Brun, noting her characteristic dress, cap, and natural curls.
Colin B. Bailey. "Review of Baetjer 2019." Burlington Magazine 163 (May 2021), p. 470.
Séverine Sofio inPeintres femmes, 1780–1830: Naissance d'un combat. Ed. Martine Lacas. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg. Paris, 2021, p. 38, fig. 18 (color), mentions it as part of the vogue among women artists in the 1780s and 1790s for self-portraits in the allegorical guise of “La Peinture”.
Linda Wolk-Simon. "In a New Light." Apollo 193 (March 2021), p. 75, fig. 3 (color, installation view).
Paris A. Spies-Gans. A Revolution on Canvas: The Rise of Women Artists in London and Paris, 1760–1830. London, 2022, pp. 81, 191, ill. p. xii and fig. 29 (color, overall and detail).
Alexandre Lafore. "Le Metropolitan Museum achète un tableau de la marquise de Grollier." Tribune de l'art (August 31, 2022) [http://www.latribunedelart.com/le-metropolitan-achete-un-tableau-de-la-marquise-de-grollier].
Carole Blumenfeld. "Je déclare vivre de mon art": Dans l'atelier de Marie-Victore Lemoine, Marie-Elisabeth Lemoine, Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet, Marie-Denise Villers. Exh. cat., Musée Fragonard, Grasse. Montreuil, 2023, pp. 16, 34–35, 37, 48, 90, 94 n. 55, p. 126, figs. 28, 31 (color, overall and detail).
Margaret A. Oppenheimer. "Unraveling a Myth: A Misidentified Portrait by Marie-Victoire Lemoine." Source: Notes in the History of Art 42 (Winter 2023), pp. 123, 129 n. 9, fig. 3 (color), argues that the sitter in "A Young Woman Leaning on a Windowsill" (1799; National Gallery of Victoria) is Marie Denise Villers and relates her likeness to that of the pupil in The Met's painting.
The signature and the date, difficult to read (the initial V takes the shape of a heart; see fig. 1 above), were brought to our attention by Charlotte Guichard on April 2, 2015.
In 2019, our attention was directed to a portrait on the Paris art market, attributed to Lemoine’s younger sister, Marie Elisabeth (Lemoine) Gabiou (born 1761), as a self-portrait (oil on canvas, oval, 75 x 44 cm). The artist’s table in our painting is depicted in this picture as well. Both painting and table are reported to have descended in the family, as is also the case with the Lemoine. The sitter in the painting on offer is seated in three-quarter length beside a canvas on an easel, and holds a palette in her left hand. She wears a cap, a straw hat, and a gauze scarf across the bodice of her dress that is tied behind her. The dress, olive green with ruching, and the scarf are very similar to the costume worn by the seated pupil in the Lemoine. It therefore seems likely, as proposed, that the model is Marie Elisabeth Lemoine, who married Jean Frédéric Gabiou in 1789. In the oval painting, she appears to be several years older.
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