The Portraitist

A Novel of Adelaide Labille-Guiard

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Pub Date 30 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 13 Aug 2022
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Description

Based on a true story, this is the tale of Adélaïe Labille-Guiard’s fight to take her rightful place in the competitive art world of eighteenth-century Paris. With a beautiful rival who’s better connected and better trained than she is, Adélaïde faces an uphill battle. Her love affair with her young instructor in oil painting gives rise to suspicions that he touches up her work, and her decision to make much-needed money by executing erotic pastels threatens to create as many problems as it solves. Meanwhile, her rival goes from strength to strength, becoming Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist and gaining entrance to the elite Académie Royale at the same time as Adélaïde. When at last Adélaïde earns her own royal appointment and receives a massive commission from a member of the royal family, the timing couldn’t be worse: it’s 1789, and with the fall of the Bastille her world is turned upside down by political chaos and revolution. With danger around every corner in her beloved Paris, she must find a way adjust to the new order, carving out a life and a career all over again—and stay alive in the process. 

Based on a true story, this is the tale of Adélaïe Labille-Guiard’s fight to take her rightful place in the competitive art world of eighteenth-century Paris. With a beautiful rival who’s...


Advance Praise

"""An imaginative work that brings the story of a little-known artist to vivid life."" –Kirkus Reviews 


“Written with breathless drama, The Portraitist follows the rise of the gifted portraitist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard in Paris during the last years of the late eighteenth century. The novel is a luminous depiction of Paris and those terrible times seen through the astute, compassionate eyes of a woman who had to paint. Every bit of lace or royal carriage or bloody cobblestone is alive in the writing. The rain drumming on the skylight and a misbuttoned coat speak. Go to those streets with this book in your hand to follow her footsteps and those long-gone, turbulent times will come alive to you as if they were yesterday.”

—Stephanie Cowell, award-winning author of Claude and Camille


“Deeply researched and imagined, The Portraitist offers a fascinating and dramatic plunge into the world of a brilliant female artist struggling to make her mark before and during the turbulent and treacherous era of the French Revolution. I loved this novel.” 

—Sandra Gulland, internationally best-selling author of The Josephine B. Trilogy


“In The Portraitist, Susanne Dunlap skillfully paints a portrait of a woman struggling to make her way in a man's world--a topic as relevant today as it was in Ancien Régime France. Impeccably researched, rich with period detail, Dunlap brings to life the little-known true story of Adelaide Labille-Guiard, who fought her husband and society to make a name for herself as a painter to the royal family, the very apex of success--only to find everything she had built threatened by the Revolution. A stunning story of determination, talent, and reversals of fortune. As a lifelong Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun fan, I am now questioning my allegiances!”

—Lauren Willig, best-selling author of The Summer Country"

"""An imaginative work that brings the story of a little-known artist to vivid life."" –Kirkus Reviews 


“Written with breathless drama, The Portraitist follows the rise of the gifted portraitist...


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Featured Reviews

This was such a wonderfully done story, I appreciated getting to learn about someone so interesting in history through fictional novels. Adélaïe Labille-Guiard is someone I had to look up and I enjoyed learning about her. On to the book, it was a really well done historical novel and it was beautifully done. I enjoyed getting to know Adelaie and the other characters in this world. I enjoyed the romance aspects in the book and was sad when I finished this book.

"The night she began her project, Adélaïde laid out the pastels, sliced the right sized piece of paper from the roll, fixed it to backing, and tacked it to the easel. Once everything was prepared and the mirror placed just right, she stripped off all her clothes. One unexpected benefit of using her own body as a model was that she didn’t have to worry about making someone else, some young girl who might not understand all that it implied, pose in a way that would cause her embarrassment."

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I love fiction based in fact, books that educate as well as entertain - especially when enjoyment
is the main criterion, as it is here. I couldn’t put ‘The Portraitist’ down for longer than it took me to google Adelaide Labille-Guiard and admire her self portrait, vividly described in the book and currently on display at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. If you enjoyed ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ you will love ‘The Portraitist’, I did.

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A moving story about the difficulties faced by a female artist, Adelaide, in Paris in the eighteenth century, in the time of Marie Antoinette. Of course the novel does not just focus on the artist and her issues, but they are a key part of the story. Lots of historical research is evident in the book, the author knows the period well, but her research is woven well into the story.
This author is a favourite of mine, I have read many of her books, and based on the ones that I have read, she has a very high standard of writing. I particularly loved Emilie's Voice, but this novel is not far behind on my list of favourites. I would certainly recommend this novel and would give it more than five stars if I could, but alas I am limited to five.

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A wonderful look at a woman artist’s life in the 18th century, and more interesting than a novel of Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun would have been. Adelaide Labille-Guiard was a real woman who struggled, loved, and lived, and this story brings her back to life.

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This was so beautifully written, the words bore so many emotions and usually i don't really pick up on the underlying feels, but this time i did.
it goes to show that Susanne Dunlap is amazing at what she does, because i read a book about a painter i had never heard of before, felt really connected to her and her struggles and somehow didn't get bored halfway. thank you netgalley for allowing me to read this.

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The Portraitist: A Novel of Adelaide Labille-Guiard
by Susanne Dunlap is a stunning historical fiction that sheds light on a true artist amd a woman that lived before her time.

I absolutely loved going on thus journey to learn about this true artist Adélaïe Labille-Guiard’s life, love, work, and journey in 18th century Paris. Sadly, I had not heard of her before picking up this book. I am so glad the author has written such a wonderful, raw, real, and informative at the same time.

The author’s passion and research were evident in this richly depicted and expertly drawn narrative of a woman that was truly talented, and truly a woman that lived well before the era that would have given her much more than a moment to truly shine.

5/5 stars

Thank you NG and Books Go Social/She Writes Press for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 8/30/22.

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This was an amazing surprise. I hadn't heard of either the author or of Adelaide Labille Guiard before, but I really enjoyed this book. The writing was vivid, I felt as if the words were leaping off the pages. I felt truly connected to the main character, and was able to understand her struggles.
Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for providing me with an eARC.

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This is historical fiction at its absolute best. It is beautifully-written, extensively-researched, and about a real-life but little-known artist named Adélaïde Labille-Guiard.

This novel tells the story of Adélaïde before, during and after the French Revolution. Despite great talent, she struggles to develop herself as a successful artist in a male-dominated profession where opportunities are handed out easily to men but parceled out parsimoniously to women. I loved how Adélaïde was so strong, not only in persevering in her pursuit of a professional art career, but also in leaving her rotten husband. Divorce was not a possibility until after the French Revolution, so she went back home to live with her father and eventually found love with another man. She was also a champion of helping other women artists, becoming a teacher and mentor. When the Bastille falls, she has just gained a royal commission and her ties to the royal family place her in great jeopardy. She bravely must balance a fine line between continuing her career and avoiding the ire of the revolutionaries.

I loved this novel. A rare five stars from me!

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I had no knowledge of this artist and very little of the French Revolution either, so was delighted to get a preview of this book. Obviously well researched, It was an engrossing and delightful read. All the main characters were well drawn, and although you had to keep in mind this is a fictionalisation of characters an events , it was all very plausible. It is well written, with good use of language and description. Complimented by a good cover too. Thank you.

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The Portraitist by Susanne Dunlap was an enchanting read about an artist I never really knew. I knew all about Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun being an artist and taking art history courses but not really about Adelaide Labille-Guiard. To see the historical points of view of the life of an artist and a woman trying to be famous and competing against Elisabeth vigee Le Brun is insane. Also having to deal with the politics of the art world monarchy it taking place in France and right around the revolution. I highly recommend this book because this artist needs to be known and it really gives you a feeling of the different perspectives to be a women artist in france around the time of the revolution. The writing in strong and the research is immense I highly reccomend this book to be read.

This Arc was given to me by netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Don't forget to check it out august 30 2022. Also in real life apparently this work is at the Ghetty.

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Suzanne Dunlap's "The Portraitist" is historical fiction at its finest. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, which presented the artistic life of Adelaide Labille-Guiard. The novel starts in the mid-1770s, just when American is beginning its journey to independence from England, getting help from France along the way. It continues on through the French Revolution, and ends with Napoleon being on the throne (he did eventually have himself crowned emperor). In this time frame, Dunlap gives the reader a window into the life of an artist who should be more well-known for her work, rather than just as the rival of Elisabeth Vigee, Madame Le Brun. Madame Guiard was a great artist in her own right, and Dunlap eloquently presents that through this book. She tackles the difficulty women of the time had at forging a career as an artist. Where Madame Le Brun was willing to play the patronage game, Madame Guiard felt fame should come from hard work. Eventually she ends up playing the game too, but it was clear it went against her principles. She also shows the impact that patriarchal rule had on women's lives...how little real power women had at the time. Finally, she gives the reader a view into the turmoil of the French Revolution, and how it literally remade French society politically and socially. The book ends with an interesting meeting between Adelaide and Elisabeth...one that leaves the reader with a different feeling than would be expected seeing the rivals meet. Dunlap does a wonderful thing by providing an afterword to fully explain her goal in writing the book, a goal I believe she met and exceeded. Fans of historical fiction, political history, and art history will find this book fascinating, as I did.

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This book is a magical journey. It is about the Adelaide Labille-Guiard, a not-that-famous royal portraitist during the French Revolution, and her lifelong rivalry with Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antoinette's s favorite painter.
Since she was very young Adelaide showed a passionate interest in art and painting. She dedicated her life and her efforts to ensuring that the talent of women is considered as valuable as that of men in the academic spheres of pre- and post-revolutionary France.
The book is not only well documented in the historical facts but is also beautifully written and it shows a vast knowledge, great respect, and admiration for Adelaide and her work.
I found particularly interesting the passages in the book dedicated to her life once the revolution broke out and how he managed to escape the violence unleashed against those considered enemies of the Republic due to their ties to the monarchy, and how she feels torn between the need to complete the jobs she was committed to doing and her deep conviction of the need for change.

The novel is a beautiful piece of historical fiction and I would highly recommend it.

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Personally, I found this book to be a compelling and wonderfully heartfelt book. As a historical fiction book, it manages to not only captivate my attention, but I also felt moved by Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s history and any writing having to do with her paintings. The writing was 100% the best part of this novel. It felt so vivacious and raw. I felt like I was there with Adelaide watching the events of her life and feeling every emotion she felt. If someone was looking to get into historical fiction, this would be the perfect gateway as it’s exciting, factual, and beautifully written. I applaud Susanne Dunlap for not only being able to write such a unique and beguiling book, but for also sharing the life of Adelaide with readers in a sensitive and thought-out way.

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I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publishers for this opportunity.

Author Susanne Dunlap has written a fabulous account of the life, struggles and creative talent of the female artist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. The book is colourful and passionate and one that was a great joy to read, in particular as an artist of many years myself and having had the opportunity of seeing paintings by Adélaïde as well as paintings from her rival, Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Le-Brun at the Louvre.

Unlike Elisabeth (Louise-Elisabeth) who was beautiful as well as talented, Adélaïde didn't have that pretty demure that would give a favourable first impression and she considered herself plain and to add to her struggle she was in a loveless marriage. Nicolas, her husband did not appreciate her talent and during a fierce argument he became violent.

This episode gives Adélaïde the opportunity she needs to be rid of him to pursue her love of painting. Her father was never a fan of Nicolas and takes her back into his household. She applies for a separation, her divorce follows sometime later.

From here on she is in the grip of her ambition but there are many obstacles that she needs to overcome, supporting herself financially is one of the main ones. Taking rooms as a studio to have for students is one way but this doesn't bring her enough money to buy her canvases, paints and brushes, in particular those needed for her to pursue her ambition to paint in oils. Unlike Elisabeth who is admired by many and is a key portraitist for Marie Antoinette and other important royals, Adélaïde finds herself having to continue her small erotica pastels that she sells to her dealer unsigned. Having to resort to this type of artwork holds a terrible risk for her, firstly if Nicolas purchased one, would he recognise her style and also that it might blight her further ambitions for obtaining a royal commission if her name came to light as "le pastelier érotique".

Adélaïde had already exhibited her paintings through the Académie de Saint-Luc but this was closed due to the influence of the Royal Academy. Now she must strive to be admitted to the Royal Academy. She takes classes in oil painting with François-Andre Vincent (Andre) as she knows that her real future is in this medium. He recognises her talent, ambition, knowledge and looks at her in a manner that she has never experienced with a magnetic attraction to each other developing but Adélaïde is aware of her predicament that could jeopardize all that she wants if Nicolas was to come be aware of any love liaisons.

Eventually a royal commission comes her way but it's to lesser royals and she grudgingly accepts that it is unlikely that she will be in the same limelight as her rival, Elisabeth. There is no doubt that she is jealous of Elisabeth, her contacts, the large fees that come her way as well as being married and a mother. It seems her rival has so much while she struggles. This aspect of her life is her one weakness, obsessed with her rival. However, as time moves on and the Reign of Terror grips France, Elisabeth flees the country while Adélaïde is able to stay in France. She loses out financially with her lesser royals also fleeing France and not honouring fees due to her. However, Adélaïde has a much more contented life than Elisabeth after France recovers from its turmoil.

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At A Glance
historical fiction
adventurous
emotional
Informative
inspiring

Rating
⭐⭐⭐⭐

About
Based on a true story, this is the tale of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard’s fight to take her rightful place in the competitive art world of eighteenth-century Paris.

With a beautiful rival who’s better connected and better trained than she is, Adélaïde faces an uphill battle. Her love affair with her young instructor in oil painting gives rise to suspicions that he touches up her work, and her decision to make much-needed money by executing erotic pastels threatens to create as many problems as it solves. Meanwhile, her rival goes from strength to strength, becoming Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist and gaining entrance to the elite Académie Royale at the same time as Adélaïde.

When at last Adélaïde earns her own royal appointment and receives a massive commission from a member of the royal family, the timing couldn’t be worse: it’s 1789, and with the fall of the Bastille her world is turned upside down by political chaos and revolution. With danger around every corner in her beloved Paris, she must find a way to adjust to the new order, carving out a life and a career all over again—and stay alive in the process.

Review
Thank you to @netgalley for allowing me the opportunity to receive this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

This was a completely different book than I generally pick up to read - but I am really glad I went for it! The Portraitist was a wonderfully fictionalized story of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard’s life and experiences as a young female artist during a time when females were meant to be in the shadows.

While this is, at its core, a fictionalized biography of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, it definitely does not read like that. It's filled to the brim with an exciting, adventurous and captivating story. I absolutely love that Adélaïde's story has been kept alive for generations to come through this book!

Adélaïde is a fierce main character in her story and I am immensely proud of her and all the effort she put forth to become this amazing artist that we're still talking about three centuries later. I didn't study art in school, so I don’t know if Adélaïde Labille-Guiard is part of the curriculum, but she should be! Young artists, especially females, could not help but be inspired and energized to develop their own skills and tenacity as they learn about Adélaïde.

The next time someone asks me, "If you could sit down with someone for an hour, alive or dead, who would you pick?" I will definitely be adding Adélaïde to the top of that list thanks to Susanne Dunlap's amazing novel!

The Portraitist comes out at the end of the month (08/30) and you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy!

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This was a beautifully written and inspiring read, covering not only the struggles of a female artist navigating male-dominated spaces of the 18th century art world but also the chaos and tension in pre and post-revolutionary France. The descriptions of the artists' work were so rich that I often found myself putting the book aside momentarily to look up paintings. It's evident that Susanne Dunlap really put effort into her research and cared about her subjects - even taking the time to share with the reader what elements of her writing were more embellished in her author's note.

Adelaide Labille-Guiard was never mentioned in any of my art history or painting classes in college, and I'm so glad that more attention is being given to her story and work.

Thank you to NetGalley, She Writes Press, and Susanne Dunlap for the opportunity to read this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Please NOTE: I received early access to this manuscript in exchange for working an impartial review. Thank you NetGalley and She Writes Press. Publication: August 30, 2022.

THE PORTRAITIST: A NOVEL OF ADELAIDE LABILLE-GUIARD is an historical novel recounting the life of a little-known but talented French artist who, because she is a woman, struggles all her life to gain the kind of opportunities and recognition male artists at the time received. As the author explains in the Afterword, not much has been written about this woman which allowed Susanne Dunlap some leeway, for example, to add more substance to a supposed rivalry between Adélaïde and another more famous woman painter of the time, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842).

Adélaïde, though artistically gifted from childhood, is unable to access the kind of training readily available to men. Nor, as she ages, is she able to recruit the same calibre of students who study with men. She isn't paid as much as a male teachers. Her commissioned art doesn't command as high a price as her male contemporaries. Nor is she eligible for the kind of government subsidies available to artists like Jacques-Louis David.

Though we so often think of French society as one that has always honored arts of all kinds, the truth is that they, like most others, have only done so through the lens of patriarchy. Chauvinism played a major role in the challenges of her personal life as well, but it was learning about the life of a female artist at this time that was fascinating to me.

Adélaïde, though artistically gifted from childhood, is unable to access the kind of training readily available to men. Nor, as she ages, is she able to recruit the same calibre of students who study with men. She isn't paid as much as a male teachers. Her commissioned art don’t command as high a price as her male contemporaries. Nor is she eligible for the kind of government subsidies available to artists like Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).

Instead Adélaïde must rely on her own formidable determination to secure an important mentor in the artist François-André Vincent (1746-1816) and to attract the notice of prominent patrons. Enough so that eventually she is one of the few women admitted to the elite Académie Royale.

Adélaïde (1749-1803) also lived through interesting times and her story cannot be separated from the unfolding of the French Revolution, and it’s life-changing effects on all levels of French society, including the art world. Historical events force artists relying on patronage for their survival to shift allegiances first from powerful nobles in the court of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, then to the men who rule during the Reign of Terror, and then again after these leaders too are executed.

It’s Adélaïde's success, DESPITE all the obstacles, that held my interest. That, and my own admiration for her art. There are a few places where I thought the pace of the novel slowed and a few significant jumps in time toward the end that felt jarring, like I'd missed something. But overall, highly recommended!

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Adélaïde Labille-Guiard strives to be an artist. However, in 18th century France with an unsupportive husband, that is a difficult task. Adélaïde takes care of the husband part by separating from him and taking instruction from François André Vincent at the Louvre. Already an accomplished pastelist, Adélaïde develops her painting skills and becomes one of the first women to show at Salons and be accepted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Adélaïde still struggled financially and decided to take up female students, furthering the acceptance of women as artists. Just when it seems that Adélaïde has been accepted into the higher ranks of artists with royal commissions, the Royal family falls from grace and the Revolution begins.

Based on the real Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, The Portraitist brings to light the story of passion, struggle and talent in 18th century France. From the beginning of the story as Adélaïde separates from her husband and finds her way to gain instruction in painting, I could sense her fierce determination. The writing drew me into the world of the artists, the Salons and the disparities of pre-Revolutionary France. I was amazed at the strength Adélaïde had to forge through with her dreams, especially with her economic situation. I was equally interested in the other woman artist, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun who was accepted in the artists world at the same time as Adélaïde and were seen as rivals. I do wonder what would have happened if they joined forces rather than competed. I was amazed at Adélaïde's creativity for finding funds by creating erotic art. It's too bad that this probably isn't true. The Revolution changed a lot for Adélaïde, it seems she was able to live her life more comfortably, but never regained her traction as an artist. Overall, an important story of an overlooked female artist.

This story was received for free in return for an honest review.
.

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I completely adored reading The Portraitist.

What an absolute joy; I though Susanne Dunlap did a wonderful job bringing Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, to life. Obviously historical fiction is still fiction, but you can feel how there are facts that support the story we are told.

I loved getting glimpses into the periphery of the art world of the late 18th century, especially knowing that the revolution was on its way.

This is a book where the main character's thoughts, ideas, personality etc held my heart, especially some of the very realistic contemplations on patriarchy and the effect on Guiard and other women in the field. As I read hI could smell, taste and breathe the Paris art world on the cusp of big changes and loved the experience

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Adelaie Labille-Guiard is working hard to prove herself not only as an artist but a successful woman artist The novel starts in the mid-1770s, just when American is beginning its journey to independence from England, getting help from France along the way. It continues on through the French Revolution, and ends with Napoleon being on the throne. Having never heard of this artist, it was interesting to read about her, the times she lived in...the book was captivating and one I thoroughly enjoyed. My thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A historical fiction story based on the life of Adélaïe Labille-Guiard in the 18th century Paris. Adélaïe competes with a rival to attend the Royal Academy and to become the official portraitist of the doomed royal family. A well researched story about a female painter in the era that was dominated by men. The story gives us a glimpse of Adélaïe‘s life and the struggles she endured. The author did a great job bringing her to life. A well written historical novel.

Disclaimer: Thank you to NetGalley and She Writes Press for this ARC, I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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An intriguing story about a French female artist who struggled for recognition against the background of the waning days of Louis XVI’s court.
I’m not an art person, but I enjoyed the historical details of the book.
I liked how the artist posited the story and all the characters included.
Most of the book occurs pre Revolution and I liked that.
It’s a good contribution to historical fiction.

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This book is so rich with history! And the writing is so superb! Absolutely recommend! If you like strong woman, this is a must read! If you like art and true stories and 1800 history of France then read this book!

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The Portraitist follows Adelaide, a young woman striving for artistic recognition in Paris in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Escaping from an abusive husband who does not understand her art, Adelaide must make difficult decisions in order to feed herself and afford the supplies to carry on her work. Already skilled with pastels, Adelaide begins to take classes in oil painting from Andre Vincent, starting a partnership that will last for the rest of her life. As Adelaide attempts to get recognition from the Academie, her relationship with Andre becomes a cause for concern, as many believe that Andre has helped her or even painted her works himself. Through the years, Adelaide builds treasured relationships with her own students, but political tensions increase with the coming of the French Revolution, and Adelaide must adapt if she wants to survive.

Based on the life of a real woman, The Portraitist is another example of the many recent historical novels that focus on women's history. I've read two other historical novels about female artists recently - one set in regency England, the other in the 1920s and 1930s in New York. Women artists struggled for legitimacy for so many years, and even into the 20th century their work was being questioned and devalued. The Portraitist shows Adelaide's struggles to have her legitimacy recognized in a men's world, sometimes resorting to morally questionable methods in order to survive. She nurtures other female artists in the students she teaches, several of whom she forges long-lasting relationships with. The book is framed by Adelaide's rivalry with Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, who gets the Academie recognition and royal appointment that Adelaide so desires, seemingly without any struggle.

Adelaide's life seemed to be a series of struggles that culminated in the French Revolution. Knowing what was coming, I felt bad for her when things started looking up, because I knew at any moment all she'd built might come crashing down. While the ending wasn't exactly happy, I do think it did a very good job of wrapping up the book, and I was satisfied. This book is full of hope and hard work and tragedy, but at the end, it still remains inspirational. The only downside for me was the author summarized a lot of Adelaide's life without the reader actually getting to see it happening on the page. That being said, none of the scenes that were included in full felt superfluous, so I suppose it was a matter of what the author wanted to focus on.

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A fascinating look at a real-life but little-known French painter around the time of the French Revolution, Adélaïe Labille-Guiard. She struggles to find her place in male-dominated profession and stands up for herself professionally and personally. Excellent historical fiction about an admirable woman.

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