Marie-Guillemine Benoist was a French neoclassical painter of the 18th century who started her artistic training under Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was also a pupil of the renowned painter Jacques-Louis David’s atelier five years later with her sister Marie-Élisabeth Laville-Leroux.
Her first exhibition in the Salon de Paris was in 1791, there she displayed Psyché faisant ses adieux à sa famille, a painting inspired in Greek mythology. It is possible to see in this painting and in other works of the same period her interest on mythology, in L’innocence entre la vertu et le vice, the vice is represented by a man, although it was traditionally represented as a woman, some scholars have seen in this an interest for feminist ideas.
Her work tended toward history painting, what could be influenced by her master Jacques-Louis David. Around 1795 she abandoned classical subjects for genre painting after receiving harsh critics she could gradually free herself of the influence of David. She continued her artistic career with success and in 1800 she exhibited the painting Portrait de Madeleine before called Portrait d’une négresse in the Salon, it was six years before slavery had been abolished, and this painting became a symbol for women’s emancipation and black people’s rights. The painting was acquired by Louis XVIII in 1818.
In 1803 she was awarded with a very important commission for a full-length portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte who was the Premier Consul Français by that time. This portrait was to be sent to the city of Ghent, newly ceded to France by the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801.
She received other honours as the Gold Medal in the Salon of 1804 or governmental allowance. During this time, she could open her own atelier where she started artistic training of women.
During the Restauration, she was asked to give up exhibiting so as not to harm the career of her husband, the lawyer Pierre-Vincent Benoist, who was a counsellor of state, and despite of being at the height of her career’s popularity she acceded.
She was born in Paris on this day in 1768.
If you want more information on Portrait d’une negrèsse, there it is an older post about female slaves in art.
- In 1784 she met the poet Charles-Albert Demoustier who felt inspired by her in creating the character Émilie in his Lettres à Émilie sur la mythologie published in 1801.
- In 1793 she married the lawyer Pierre-Vincent Benoist.