Eighteenth-century France was the crucible for some of the most elegant, sophisticated and refined art ever made. It was also a hotbed of philosophical and cultural reflection on many major issues, including what was known as the “woman question.” Against a backdrop of powerful conventional thinking that assigned women to limited and secondary roles based on the presumed dictates of biology, some voices began arguing for an alternative view, one that saw woman as the potential equal of man in intelligence, creativity, responsibility and power. Women could have identities beyond beauty, motherhood and emotional susceptibility.
This exhibition, by turns charming and challenging, shows for the first time how art and artists explored all sides of this debate, from stunningly refined portrayals of beautiful young women to depictions of idyllic family life, from mythological scenes of ideal or despicable female behavior to evocations of women’s creative prowess, and from touching images of romance and marriage to respectful presentations of maturity and old age.
With over 100 paintings, sculptures and especially drawings, selected from one of the world’s best private collections of French art, Becoming a Woman includes works by not only some of the era’s most famous names—such as Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard and Jacques-Louis David—as well as a full spectrum of lesser-known talents, represented by works of the highest aesthetic quality. A number of women artists are represented, including Anne Vallayer-Coster, Adelaide Labille-Guiard and Pauline Azou.