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Pupil of a miniaturist and later a student of Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Labille-Guiard first exhibited in 1774 at the Academy of St. Luke. Separating from her husband in 1779, the rest of her life she signed her name Labille Fme. Guiard. She then studied with François-André Vincent, the son of her first teacher, with whom she began a liason. On 31 May 1783, after a series of portraits of well-known académicians such as Vien, she was admitted to the Royal Academy. Ironically, it was on the very same day as her rival, the younger painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. After 1783 she became one of the most popular portrait painters and regularly exibited at the salons.
In 1780 she had accepted a group of women pupils into her studio, several of whom became successful portraitists. By 1784. Labille-Guiard had establish herself as a gifted teacher, a role in which she depicted herself in this great self-portrait of 1785. Although the pupils are dressed in rather simple working garb, Labille-Guiard has painted herself in a gorgeous dress and plummed hat, seated before a canvas, with her palatte and paint brushes. Of course, she would never have been dressed in this fashion while working, but the pose seems absolutely right for this ambitious and beautiful artist. In addition to her repute as a portraitist, she was a strong proponent of the education of women artists. This painting was critically well received and established her reputation as a painter. She was awarded an annual stipend from the king, however, was she was denied the usual studio at court that normally accompanied the stipend because of the presence of her female pupils. But this did not stop her from receiving major commissions from the royal family.
Today her works are greatly admired, not least because of her strong political and feminist views. But in her lifetime she was overshadowed by Vigée-Lebrun.