American Art Collector
GABRIELA GONZALEZ DELLOSSO: A BRUSH WITH HERSTORY
Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso spotlights historic women artists in her newest museum exhibition.
In her time, 18th-century French artist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was considered a trailblazer for women in the arts. Not only was she one of the first women accepted into the prestigious Académie Royale in France—at a time when only up to four women were admitted each year—but she also was a champion for young female artists. She would hold mentorships and studio sessions for them and in 1790 proposed to the Académie Royale’s governing board that women should be admitted in unlimited numbers and serve on the board. Both motions were approved. She also was a painter for the Royal family, with one of her commissions coming from the King’s brother Count of Provence, who was later Louis XVIII of France.
However, three centuries later—even though she has artwork in public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art—LabilleGuiard’s name is mostly forgotten. It has gone the way of many of her contemporaries, including Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who are often overlooked for their male counterparts of the period.
Since she was a young girl, artist Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso has gone on trips to the Met. In 2008, while preparing for her first solo exhibition in New York City, Dellosso took a break to visit the famed institution accompanied by her mother. Making her way through the halls, as she had many times throughout her life, she stumbled across a painting she had never noticed before. Whether it was just coming on display, or one she happened to skip over, it immediately captivated her attention. The painting was Labille-Guiard’s SelfPortrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet (17611818) and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788).
“I just loved the painting and went up to it and I saw it was by a woman painter I’d never heard of before,” Dellosso recalls. “I also loved the story I read on the label.”
As a member of the Académie Royale, LabilleGuiard was allowed to enter work into the biennial exhibition the school hosted. She submitted this piece—depicting herself at an easel and two female artists behind her studying the work—in an almost rebellious stand against the limitations placed on female artists. “She had a few pupils and they could never exhibit their work in this important exhibition,” says Dellosso. “In a sarcastic statement she put them in her painting, and so they were in the show via her painting.”
Back in her studio, Dellosso continued her work for her solo exhibition. All the while, however, this narrative and painting stuck with her. “I had been working on the paintings for my show, and I kept thinking about that painting for some reason. It kept popping
into my head every day, which was so weird because that usually doesn’t happen,” she explains. Then, in an almost serendipitous fashion, on another break from painting she pulled a book from her collection of art books—Women Artists 1550-1950, a catalog for an exhibition of the same name—and opened it straight to Labille-Guiard’s biography, which she began reading. In particular, she was struck by the story of how the French artist’s commission for Louis XVIII—a work that was her largest and took two-and-a-half years to paint—was torched to the ground.
“That whole story also kind of stuck with me, and I was coming toward the end of doing the paintings for my solo exhibition, so I started thinking about the painting and the book,” Dellosso says. “I thought what if I did an homage to these women painters from the book, because I had never even heard of any of them. I loved doing self-portraits as well, so I thought what if I paint myself as these women, using my image to acknowledge them.”
This marked the beginning of Dellosso’s Homage series. She worked solely on portraits for several years, then in 2010 began narrative paintings that tell stories from the artists’ lives. Most recently, she has expanded to mixed media odes that include poems she has written and elements of their paintings in the designs.
The Mentor was Dellosso’s first of the narrative paintings, where she decided to take Labille-Guiard’s painting from the Met and reverse the concept. “Instead of having her looking out at the audience, I have it so we are looking at her from behind and her two pupils are on the other side. You get a glimpse of her painting, and it was a spin on her bigger story with her as a teacher and the significance of that.”
Since then, Dellosso has painted works such as The Storyteller, Homage to Sophie Gengembre Anderson
(Self-Portrait), which is based on Sophie Gengembre Anderson’s painting of Scheherazade telling her story of One Thousand and One Nights. In Dellosso’s work, she takes on the role of Scheherazade and tells the story instead of Anderson’s artwork by painting scenes from her pieces around the central figure.
Dellosso also painted her largest work in the series, The Burning of Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s Masterpiece (Self-Portrait Homage series), based on the story she read in Women Artists 1550-1950. In her piece, measuring 70 by 105 inches, Dellosso shows a grieving Labille-Guiard as her historic masterpiece burns in the background.
She has even moved beyond the classic portraiture style when paying homage to women still life artists in Homage Composition to: Anna Vallayer Coster (French 1744-1818), Clara Peeters (Dutch, active panting 1607-1750), and Rachel Ruysch (Dutch 1664-1750). “In this work I used the objects that they used in their paintings and put the three of them together in one giant still life,” Dellosso explains. “You kind of have to look at the painting and study the objects to see their still lifes in the painting. It’s kind of an entire combination of their still lifes, but you still have my reflection in a little tiny mirror and my initials a couple of times in there.”
On August 31, the Heckscher Museum of Art opened a solo exhibition for the artist titled A Brush with HerStory: Paintings by Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso featuring 20 works from the grouping. After closing on November 10 it traveled to Lakeland, Florida-based Polk Museum of Art, opening December 14. It will hang there through April 12. The idea for the show is to bring these women artists to a larger audience as well as highlight Dellosso’s contemporary viewpoint.
“It’s a message that these women did contribute to art history and that they can
inspire,” she says. “When I went to school I never learned about any of them. They were excluded from the books that I was given, and I still see it the same way today. I try to share this with teachers and a lot of them don’t know anything about these women artists. I feel like what I’m trying to do is start there and get the teachers to become more interested.” From there, these educators and curators, Dellosso explains, are able to pass the information to children and other visitors through the shows and activities. She adds, “Major institutions are now showcasing the women artists more… that’s something you never ever had in the past. Hopefully more museums will start picking up on it, because they can influence and inspire, so why shouldn’t their work be shown?”