Labille-Guiard: Self Portrait with Two Pupils 1785; Jean-Laurent Mosnier: Self Portrait with His Daughters 1840

Adelaide’s Atelier Part 2

About 55 years later the French artist Jean-Laurent Mosnier executed a self portrait based on Adelaide’s. He may have used the work as a model because the closeness of the two young women sparked an idea to include his daughters in the portrait. Unlike in Labille-guaird’s work, they are not in communion with the artist but looking away whilst he looks out at the viewer. Along with the little dog in the foreground, they are evidently critiquing his work – perhaps negatively as the hand position and the expression of the taller figure appear disparaging. He is alone, in a separate male world and the collusion of the girls serves to reinforce this. Whereas in Labille-Guiard’s version it is her father who overlooks her (he was a haberdasher), seemingly benignly, in Mosnier’s this role is filled by a portrait of a ruler (probably Peter the Great. Mosnier worked in the Francophile court of St Petersburg). The way this superior figure is casting a steely eye over his shoulder also gives the impression of a harsh criticism. Mosnier seems embattled and alone, his only ally appears to be the female figure he is painting (unfortunately her identity is unknown), whose pose forms a harmonious counterpoint to his own. Is he expressing the idea that his only real friend is his art? Whereas Labille-Guiard’s original shouts out community and co-operation, his shouts out a proud isolation in the midst of critical community. Would it politically incorrect to see this as a fundamental expression of the difference between men and women? (I am now running for cover! . . .)