Though the art world of the 18th century was dominated by men, quite a few women were trained as artists and held their own in exhibits and sales. One of these women was Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux, whose portrait of herself tuning her harp is a gorgeous and historically fascinating work of art.
Rose was born in Paris in 1761, the daughter of the painter Joseph Ducreux (whose own self-portrait is now an an internet meme), a successful portraitist at the court of Louis XVI of France. Coming from a wealthy family, Rose received a well-rounded education, and was accomplished as a composer and performer as well as a portraitist.
Rose’s paintings were displayed in several exhibits, beginning in the Paris Salon of 1791, the first year in which members of the public were permitted to display their own paintings. Her work was displayed in Paris in several exhibits for the rest of the decade, where they were received favorably.
Self portrait with a Harp at the Salon is a remarkable painting not only for its beauty but for the historical insight it provides. Rose stands, not playing the harp, but seemingly interrupted from the middle of tuning (she holds the tuning key in her right hand). Obviously painted by a someone intimately familiar with the instrument, the harp is depicted with red strings for C and dark strings for F, and with nearly photorealistic pedals. The strings are tied to the top of the harp in a slightly untidy, realistic way — how Rose must have tied her own instrument’s strings. The song laying on the table, “Tender Love”, suggests she also sings as she plays.
Rose relocated to the colony of Saint-Domingue (in modern-day Haiti) after marrying Francois-Jacques Lequoy de Montgiraud, where she sadly died of yellow fever at the young age of 41, in 1802.
Self-portrait with a Harp by Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
KeriLynn Engel is an autodidact and women’s history buff who founded Amazing Women in History in 2011.