Following up on last week’s post about being able to name five female artists, here’s another one to add to your list. French Romantic-style painter Marie-Guillemine Benoist was born on December 18, 1768 in Paris. She was the daughter of a government official who recognized her talent and enrolled her as a pupil of Vigée-LeBrun in 1791; the latter’s influence is very evident in Benoist’s early works, mainly portraits done in pastels.
Later, she studied under Jacques-Louis David, and as a result she began producing more ambitious works in oils. She made her debut at the Salon with two historical scenes and thereafter painted both portraits and historical subjects. She achieved a high reputation and received a gold medal and an annual government grant. Napoleon commissioned portraits of himself and his family from her.
In the early 1800s, she switched to painting genre subjects and sentimental domestic scenes which were immensely popular. Her best-known painting, a remarkable portrait of a young black woman, painted in 1800, is believed to have been inspired by the decree of 1794 abolishing slavery. The painting, which hangs in the Louvre, was recently renamed from Portrait d’une Négresse to Portrait de Madeleine to honor the identity of the sitter, which had been ignored for over two hundred years.