Adelaide Labille-Guiard was the youngest child of a Parisian haberdasher, and unlike her great rival, Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, without family artistic connections. Her skills were developed over a period of years, and she only began to exhibit her works in her late thirties. She first learned the art of miniature painting, the traditional art form in which women not only participated but dominated. She then studied with Maurice Quentin de la Tour and In 1769, at the age of 20, married Louis-Nicolas Guiard. Subsequently estranged from him, she began taking painting lessons from the son of her miniaturist teacher, Francois André Vincent and soon moved in with him.. They were not married, however, until many years later in 1800. Throughout her long career, she signed all her works under her married name, Mdm Guiard. Only in modern times has she become known as Labille-Guiard.
In the 1780s, she was admitted to the Royal Academy, and she attracted a number of prominant clients, including King Louis XVI's sisters. Her exhibitions were popular, but she never quite equalled the fame of Vigée-Lebrun. Their rivalry was part of the Parisian artistic scene before the Revolution. Frequently, their pictures were hung side by side, inviting comparisons.
Unlike Vigee-Lebrun, Labille-Guiard was a supporter of reform, and painted a number of figures who had criticized the court and the crown. Subsequently she stayed in France during the Revolution. In 1791, with her aristocratic clientele greatly diminished, she exhibited fourteen portraits of the political elite including Robespierre and Talleyrand. She used the Revolution to further the cause of women artists, and in 1790 she addressed the Academy on lifting the quota for women in that insitution. The motion was opposed by David and failed.. Nevertheless, her tenacity during the Revolution gained her many commissions after the mid-1790s and a studio apartment at the Louvre in 1795. The passing of the first divorce laws permitted her finally to marry her partner of many years, the artist Francois André Vincent. She died in Paris three years later, in 1803
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