Mysterious Payment
to Mlle Guyard for "Picture":
Who Was Adélaïde Labille-Guiard?

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Self-portrait with two students, 1785. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; www.metmuseum.org.)

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (11 April 1749 – 24 April 1803) was a highly regarded French portrait painter in the late 18th century—a master at miniatures, pastels, and oil paintings—and one of the few women to have become a full member of the prestigious French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture when she was accepted on 31 May 1783. She was born and died in Paris, France.1

Thomas Jefferson recorded in his accounting ledger a 240-franc payment to "Mlle Guyard" [Adélaïde Labille-Guiard] on 9 September 1786 for a picture (see image of ledger entry below).2 Jefferson scholars note that this was "the most expensive work of art TJ bought while in Paris," and that Labille-Guiard "was at the height of her fame in this period." 3 But they also note that none of the catalogs of Jefferson's art include her name.4

Adding to the mystery, someone—almost certainly Jefferson—carefully obliterated ("looped out") several of the words in Jefferson's ledger entry for the Labille-Guiard payment.

TJ Ledger Entry1 (9SEP1786).jpg

Entry in Thomas Jefferson's accounting ledger showing 240-franc payment to "Mlle Guyard" on 9 September 1786. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.)

Was Jefferson's Mysterious Payment Related to the 1785 Delapierre Portrait?

Comparison of the 1785 Delapierre portrait (75 x 62 cm) with an undated portrait by Labille-Guiard ["Portrait of a woman," circa 1787, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), oil on canvas, 100.6 x 81.4 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper].

One of Labille-Guiard's works—an oil portrait claimed by some to be of Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platière—bears striking compositional similarities to Delapierre's 1785 portrait, suggesting that one was modeled on the other or that both were modeled on a third (as yet unidentified) picture.5

If the sitter in the 1785 Delapierre portrait is Jefferson, the lack of a record of payment by Jefferson to Delapierre and the strong compositional similarities between the aforementioned Labille-Guiard portrait and the 1785 Delapierre portrait suggest that the 240-franc payment to Labille-Guiard may be related to a role she had in the creation of the Delapierre portrait.6 7

This proposal is strengthened by the relationship Labille-Guiard had with Amédée Vanloo, a nephew of Delapierre's instructor Carle Vanloo. Labille-Guiard's portrait of Amédée was used by her to gain admission to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in May 17838 and was one of the principal works she had on display at the Academy's "Salon de 1785." 9

References and notes

[1] For biographical information, see The Art of Adelaide Labille-Guiard; and Laura Auricchio, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution, Getty Publications, Los Angeles, California, 2009; and Royalists to Romantics—Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections [exhibition catalog], Scala Publishers Limited, London, England, 2012, pp. 90-91.

[2] Image from Jefferson's ledger courtesy of Kim Nusco, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts, August 2007.

[3] A footnote in Jefferson's Memorandum Books, Volume I, edited by James A. Bear, Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997, p. 638, states: "Three or four lined out and illegible words follow [the word Guyard]. They may hold the only clue to the identity of the most expensive work of art TJ bought while in Paris. None of the catalogues of his art collection include the name of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, one of the very few female members of the Academie Royale de Peinture." The 240 francs Jefferson paid in Paris to Labille-Guiard on 9 September 1786 was roughly equivalent to the 10 pounds British sterling he paid in London on 25 April 1786 to have his portrait painted by Mather Brown. (For British/French currency conversions at the time, see http://www.w3r-us.org/history/library/seligreptde6.pdf, pp. 170-171: "...the British pound sterling was equal to 23.17 livres tournois [francs] during the 1780s." For background on Mather Brown's portrait of Jefferson and the amount Jefferson paid, see Jefferson's Memorandum Books, Volume I, edited by James A. Bear, Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997, p. 623.)

[4] Ibid.

[5] The "Roland" portrait is owned by Musée des beaux-arts de Quimper in France. Museum experts identify the subject only as an unidentified woman, disagree with the claim that she is Madame Roland, and indicate that the painting was signed at the lower left but not dated (source: private correspondence with Marie-Christine Feunteun, Secrétariat de la conservation, Musée des beaux-arts de Quimper, 11 February 2008). Analysis of the dress and hair style suggests that the portrait was painted about 1787 (see Couleurs: Le magazine de la ville Quimper, Septembre-Octobre 2007—No 84, p. 11).

[6] Forensic analysis of Jefferson's 9 September 1786 ledger entry—to decipher the "looped out" words—might help resolve this mystery. Alternative explanations for Jefferson's 240-franc payment to Labille-Guiard include the possibility that she was the artist chosen by Jean-Antoine Houdon to copy Joseph Wright's portrait of George Washington for Antoine-Jean-Marie Thévenard. In a letter dated 27 August 1786 from Thomas Jefferson to Zachariah Loreilhe (a colleague of Thévenard), Jefferson refers to the copy as follows: "…I undertook to have the picture of Genl. Washington copied for M. Thevenard. I engaged Mr. Houdon to find a good hand to execute it and to superintend it himself. I have put off answering your letter [dated 14 August 1786] two or three days that I might be enabled to inform M. de Thevenard that the picture is finished. I received this information myself last night [Saturday, 26 August 1786], and therefore I will beg the favor of you to communicate it to him, and to ask him by what conveyance he would wish me to send it." (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 10, edited by Julian P. Boyd, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1954, pp. 254-255, 304.) According to a footnote in Boyd (p. 304), "The identity of the GOOD HAND employed by Houdon in copying Wright's portrait of Washington has not been established." However, the fact that Jefferson's payment of 240 francs to Labille-Guiard occurred on Saturday, 9 September 1786—just two weeks after Jefferson learned that the copy described above had been completed—makes Labille-Guiard a reasonable candidate for the copyist chosen by Houdon.

[7] Jefferson scholars note that Adélaïde Labille-Guiard "...was at the height of her fame in this period and could command large fees for her portraits." They doubt, therefore, that the 240 francs she received from Jefferson on 9 September 1786 was for a full-size portrait painted by her. (See Jefferson's Memorandum Books, Volume I, edited by James A. Bear, Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997, p. 638, footnote 60.)

[8] "Livret" (exhibition pamphlet) from "Salon de 1785" in Paris, Explication des Peintures, Sculptures et Gravures, de Messieurs de l'Académie Royale, M. DCC. LXXXV. [1785], p. 30. (See image of page 30 in note 9 below—item 98.)

[9] Ibid., pp. 29-30 (see images below).The "Salon de 1785" pamphlet shows that Labille-Guiard had at least nine works on display at the exhibition, and that she held the esteemed title of "académicienne" at the time. It is possible that she interacted there with Jefferson, who almost certainly attended, and also with Delapierre, who likely would have attended if in France (see The Artist: Who Was "B.N. de la Pierre"?) and whom she may have known previously via her colleague Amédée Vanloo.

Pages from "Salon de 1785" exhibition pamphlet indicating that Labille-Guiard had at least nine works on display.