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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers

Villers Young Woman Drawing

“Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers

“Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers depicts an appealing image of a young woman artist in a white dress looking directly at the viewer. Initially, this picture was attributed to a male artist; however, modern critical research points to Marie-Denise Villers as the artist of this portrait, and furthermore, art historians argue that this painting is a self-portrait. Interestingly Villers has included in this work a broken window pane, in a room that is believed to be a gallery of the Louvre. Together with the couple stand on a parapet, Villers has presented a mystery to be decoded.

Germaine Greer wrote that the picture “does not seek to charm, nor does it seek to portray the sexual vitality of its sitter,” and she feels that it is a feminist painting in nature. Other feminist critics have also begun to see feminine aspect to the painting. The Louvre gallery depicted in this painting was used by women to teach and receive instruct in art. So is this a portrait of a woman by a woman artist seeing the world through the 1800s feminist eyes? What does she see?

Her hair and dress glow in the light, as she stares out at us, with a wish to be remembered as one who dreamed of painting forever.

Marie-Denise Villers

Marie-Denise Villers (née Lemoine) was a French painter who specialized in portraits. Villers was a gifted pupil of Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson (1767–1824). In 1794, she married an architecture student who supported her in her art, even though during that time, many women were forced to give up professional artwork after marriage. Her life between the time of her last dated painting in 1814 and her death in 1821 remains a mystery.

Young Woman Drawing

  • Title:                Young Woman Drawing
  • French:            Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
  • Artist:              Marie-Denise Villers
  • Year:               1801
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   63 1/2 × 50 5/8 in. (161.3 × 128.6 cm)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Marie-Denise Villers

  • Name:           Marie-Denise Villers
  • Born:             Marie-Denise Lemoine
  • Birth:             1774 – Paris
  • Died:             1821 (aged 46)
  • Nationality:   French
  • Movement:   Neoclassicism

A tour of Women in the Arts

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Reflections

  • What do the two figures that can be seen outside the window symbolize?
  • Are the two figures outside the window the artist’s vision of herself in the future?
  • What is this self-portrait saying to us?
  • Why has she painted a broken pane of glass?

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“After rain comes sunshine.“
– French Proverb

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Photo Credit: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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