Women Painters: A New Retrospective

by ally redmond
french painting of two women

From May 19 through July 4, 2021, the Musée du Luxembourg is featuring an exhibition called Women Painters 1780-1830: The Birth of a Battle. The renowned museum, nestled in Paris’s beloved Luxembourg Gardens, will display 80 influential works by female artists from French, international and private collections.

An era of radical change, this time period – which spanned half a century – was a key moment in history when the world was evolving and opening up to women. This cultural shift was thanks largely to the French Revolution, and it applied not only to the world of art but to 19th-century society as a whole.


From fighting to receive formal training to showing their work in public to being recognized (and compensated) for their successes, this retrospective honors the work of women painters who stood up for themselves to exist as artists in their own right. Read about just a few of the famous French women painters being featured in this exciting exhibition below!

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842)

19th century painting of woman in hat

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, commonly known as “Madame Lebrun,” was a prominent French portrait painter of the late 18th century and early 19th century – most famously a favorite of Marie Antoinette. She is known for her unique style, which is a blend of Rococo and Neoclassicism. Today, her some 660 portraits and 200 landscapes hang in the world’s most esteemed international museums.

Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826)

french painting of woman artist

Paris-born Marie-Guillemine Benoist was a Neoclassical female artist who trained under both Elisabeth Vigée Le-Brun and Jacques-Louis David. She first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1791, and her reputation took off from there, later commissioned to do a full-length portrait of Napoleon. She specialized in historical and genre works, and her paintings are known for their ambitious subjects and exploration of controversial themes such as feminism and mythicism.

Constance Mayer (1775-1821)

french portrait of female artist

Constance Mayer was another French woman painter who rose to fame during this significant time for female artists. Known for her portraits, genre works and miniatures, Constance painted in a unique style involving soft brush strokes, allegorical subjects and sentimental scenes. Her name is closely associated with that of the French portrait and historical painter Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, with whom she had a relationship and influenced her training.

Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)

french painting of two women

Marguerite Gérard was a successful female artist famous for her mastery of Rococo style. She began studying under the heralded French printmaker and painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (who was her brother-in-law) at the young age of 14 and quickly rose to her success; her works were purchased by Napoleon, King Louis XVII and many members of France’s upper class.

Want more French women painters and other female artists and artisans? Don’t miss out on our May/June 21 issue!

Musée du Luxembourg

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