Beginning in the seventeenth century, the biennial exhibition of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was held in the Salon Carre, a large room in the Louvre in Paris. By the eighteenth century, the Salon, as it was known, was the preeminent art exhibition in France. For many years, artists had to be members of the Academy in order to present their work at the Salon.|
Women artists found it exceedingly difficult to gain admittance into the Academy and only a small number were successful. Two women, Elizabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun and Adelaide Labille-Guiard, were admitted on the same day in 1783. Around these two artists, other women orbited, some as students and others as mentors and instructors.
Following the hierarchy of subjects as dictated by the Academy -- with historical, religious, and mythical subjects ranked highest -- women artists were encouraged to pursue portraiture and still life. Prevailing opinions held that women lacked the intellectual capacity and imagination to create large, multi-figure compositions. In reality, however, women were not permitted to access the artistic training needed to create such images. Despite the obstacles in their way, many women in eighteenth-century France persevered in order to become successful professional artists.