72 x 58 cm. (28 3⁄8 x 22 7⁄8 in.)
Oil on canvas.
• France, Private Collection.
• France Nerlich, Dir. “L’atelier de David,” Apprendre à Peindre: les ateliers privés à Paris, 1780-1863, Symposium acts, Tours, François-Rabelais University, 2013.
Trained by the age of 13, young Louise-Adéone Drölling began her career beside her father Martin and her older brother Michel-Martin. Her first attempts, conserved in a sketchbook (private collection), express an ease in drawing and an interest in the portrait on which she worked rigorously: “There are two figures. It is a big undertaking for me, I don’t know if I will succeed.” The influence of her father, who was a genre painter, led her to be interested in depicting interior scenes as illustrations of daily life.
Our picture presents a scene characteristic of early 19th century French taste. Two young women can be seen in a warm interior decorated in Empire fashion, lit by sunlight softly emanating from the window on the left side of the composition. One of the women is seated, using a point holder, and trying her hand at drawing, the other is standing with her arms leaning on the back of the chair as she supervises. The young standing woman, whose gaze turns towards the viewer as a witness, could well be a self-portrait. Indeed, certain works by her father, who liked to take her as a model, furnish an image of a young woman whose facial features are very close to our sitter’s.
This is a private moment: the lesson was a subject dear especially to late 18th century and 19th century artists. With access to the Academy denied to women until 1791, “maidens’ workshops” appeared in large towns. Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s and Jacques-Louis David’s were the principal ones in Paris, and made it possible for women artists to receive or complete their artistic training. Increasingly over the course of the 19th century, women themselves opened their own workshops. Louise-Adéone is an excellent example of this form of education: after a brilliant publicly recognized career, the artist in turn undertook training young painters. The self-portrait in a studio is an excellent means to assert oneself which was widely used by women artists as a means of gaining recognition.
The intimate atmosphere of calm and concentration is conveyed through the delicate handling of coloring harmoniously blended between the dark mahogany background and the green velvet drapery closing the composition by the window. The warm tones of the carpet echo the dress fabrics whose colors bring light to the whole scene. The smooth regular brushstroke reproduces vibrations of warm light crossing the room typical of daily indoor scenes inherited from the spirit of the Dutch Golden Age and conveying the sweetness of life. During the 19th century, the mastery of drawing was a symbol of education and well-pursued training. Thanks to the education which assured that she was well cultivated, Louise-Adéone Drölling is situated as a major figure in genre painting inspired by the Empire period in which gentleness and people’s feelings reigned.
Born into an artistic milieu, Louise-Adéone Drölling had the privilege of engaging in drawing exercises from her earliest years, and of putting it to profit later by in turn, teaching her discoveries. Forgotten by reference works, less known than her father and older brother, the figure of Louise-Adéone Drölling deserves nonetheless our attention. Close to her contemporaries in her choice of subject matter, as well as in her delicate technique, the authorship of her works could have been confused with others, and would thus explain her very limited known corpus today.