Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from The Horvitz Collection

January 26, 2018 - April 8, 2018

Seated woman with parrot

Exhibition Resource Guide • Public Programs & Events

Eighteenth-century France was the crucible for some of the most elegant, sophisticated, and refined art ever made. It was also a hotbed of philosophical and cultural reflection on many major issues, including what was known as the “woman question.” Against a backdrop of powerful conventional thinking that assigned women to limited and secondary roles based on the presumed dictates of biology, some voices began arguing for an alternative view, one that saw woman as the potential equal of man in intelligence, creativity, responsibility, and power. Women could have identities beyond beauty, motherhood, and emotional susceptibility.

This exhibition, by turns charming and challenging, shows for the first time how art and artists explored all sides of this debate, from stunningly refined portrayals of beautiful young women to depictions of idyllic family life, from mythological scenes of ideal or despicable female behavior to evocations of women’s creative prowess, and from touching images of romance and marriage to respectful presentations of maturity and old age.

With over 100 paintings, sculptures, and especially drawings, selected from one of the world’s best private collections of French art, Becoming a Woman includes works by not only some of the era’s most famous names—such as Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard, and Jacques-Louis David—as well as a full spectrum of lesser-known talents, represented by works of the highest aesthetic quality. A number of women artists are represented, including Anne Vallayer-Coster, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, and Pauline Azou.

Becoming a Woman is curated by Melissa Hyde, Professor of Art History, University of Florida Research Foundation Professor, University of Florida, and the late Mary D. Sheriff, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is organized by Alvin L. Clark, Jr, Curator, The Horvitz Collection and The J.E. Horvitz Research Curator, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg.

The Ackland presentation of this exhibition has been made possible in part by generous support from the Randleigh Foundation Trust (established by William R. Kenan Jr.), Betsy Blackwell and John Watson, and Richard D. Pardue.

An illustrated catalog with an essay by the curator will accompany the exhibition.

“Taking Exception: Women, Gender, Representation in the Eighteenth Century” – The 2018 Bettie Allison Rand Symposium in Art History
UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Art and Art History, Thursday, February 1 – Saturday, February 3, 2018
Presented in tandem with the exhibition Becoming a Woman.

Images of works of art from the Horvitz Collection

Image Credit: Jean-Baptiste Oudry, French, 1686-1755: Seated Lady in a Garden (detail); oil on canvas. 100 x 90 cm.