A Masterwork by the First Female History Painter to Show at a Paris Salon Is Headed to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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Acquired by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Psyche saying goodbye to her family (1791) Marie-Gielmine Benoist — A rare work by a female Old Master, the first historical painting by a female artist at a salon in Paris.

“Marie-Gielmy Benoist is, in a sense, a very good artist, but it also symbolizes this moment of possibility for a French female artist at the end of the 18th century,” said European painting. Curator Emily Beanie told Artnet. news.

Prior to 1791, the twice-yearly salon in Paris was only available to members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, or the Royal Academy. There were few women among them. However, two years after the French Revolution, the arts government suspended the rule, which was used by a benoist, only 23 years old. She accepted three historical paintings into the salon, not one, not two.

“The fact that she wanted to be a historical painter makes her very extraordinary,” Beanie said. “At this point, it was a very bold ambition for women. Within the hierarchy of genres established by the Royal Academy, from historical paintings: literature, mythology, Roman history, the Bible, and other narrative subjects. The episode was actually an exclusive sanctuary for men. They were considered to require considerable knowledge and the power of invention, and female painters were considered to be essentially imitations, such as stills and portraits. I was often driven to lower genres. “

Marie-Gielmine Benoist, Psyche saying goodbye to her family (1791). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Collection, Museum Purchases, John A. and Cynthia Flygun. Phoebe Cowles and Robert Girard; Margaret and William R. Hurst III; Diane B. Wilsey; Barbara A. Wolf; Jay and Clara Makeboy Trust. Michael Taylor Trust; Margaret Oaks Fund Income Fund. Harris family; Ariane and Lionel Sauvage; and anonymous donors. Photo courtesy of: Randy Dodson, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Benoisto began his training with Elisabeth-Louis Vigee-Leblanc, one of only a handful of women who were fully enrolled in the Royal Academy and a portraitist of Marie Antoinette. When Vigée-Le Brun closed the studio, Benoist began her studies under Jacques-Louis David, and she became one of three female students to do so.

However, she was still at a disadvantage compared to her male peers.

“Venoist male classmates in David’s atelier would have had the opportunity to study male nudity as an important part of their training to become a historical painter. During this time, female artists would study nude models. Would have been a scandal. It was really unthinkable, “Benny said. “So Benoist allowed her to portray the person in her clothes, so she may have chosen this particular episode from the story of Psyche.”

“The moment Psyche’s father, the King, was told that his daughter’s bridegroom would become this monster of unimaginable destructive power. The only way to save the kingdom from this monster is to abandon Psyche on this desolate rock. That’s what her groom insists, “Benny added. “It’s a story about family sacrifice for the public good — a subject that has a lot of resonance with modern revolutionary political ideals.”

Sadly, these revolutionary ideals did not translate into a successful career in historical painting, even though Benoisto allowed her to make her victorious salon debut. By the time of the Salon in 1793, her husband had fallen into political disgust under radical Jacobin rule. It was her ex-teacher David himself who signed her arrest warrant, hiding the couple.

By the time they re-entered society, Benoisto was the only person in the family to be considered employmentable.

“She had to give up her dream of becoming a historical painter to put food on the table by drawing these dry, dull portraits. Some of them are nice, but many of them I feel a little uninspired, “Beanie said. (These fees are included Portrait of madeleine In 1800, now in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris, in 1803 there is a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. )

“Finally, her husband was completely rehabilitated, his career got off to a good start, and after the collapse of Napoleon he received a high-level post in the reconstruction government. She had to give up the brush all at once because she was told it wasn’t a pursuit, “Beanie added. “There is this tragic arc in her career.”

But the story Psyche saying goodbye to her family There is a happier ending. This painting remained in the family of the first owner for 200 years and was kept in an amazing state of preservation. (The current location of the other two Benoist paintings from the Salon of 1791 is allegorical, but remains unknown. Innocence between vice and virtue, According to the Artnet Price Database, it was sold in France in 2000 at an auction worth $ 53,585. )

“There are wonderful little touches, such as tears that seem to shine when there is a final hug on Psyche’s mother’s cheeks, and the brilliance of pearls wrapped around her arms. A moment of truly sophisticated technique and surface texture. “.” Beanie said. “All these subtleties would have been lost if the painting had been lined or over-cleaned. This painting comes down to us in a very beautiful condition.”

The canvas has never been released since its debut at the Salon in 1791 and is now one of the three Venoist canvases in the US public collection. The other two are not historical paintings, but New York and the San Diego Museum.

Psyche saying goodbye to her family It was acquired at a private price with the support of museum donors. Finally, it was sold for € 292,000 ($ 328,458) in 2020 at the Vasari Auction in Bordeaux, France. It will be on display in San Francisco later this month, along with the work of Benoist teachers Visir Blanc and David.

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