The Wallace Collection

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Marie-Françoise-Constance Mayer (1775 - 1821)
  • Place of Birth: Paris, France
  • Place of Death: Paris, France
Biography
Works of Art

Mayer was one of the most important female painters in the decades around 1800, a period when working conditions for women in the arts quickly deterioreated. Born in 1775 in Paris, the daughter of a successful government official, she first studied under Joseph-Benoît Suvée (who left Paris in 1801) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, whose work she imitated closely. She exhibited at the Salon 1796-1801, mainly portraits.

In 1802 she became the pupil of Prud'hon, to whom she dedicated the rest of her life, both as an artist and partner. She cared for his children (whose mother was placed in a nursing home in 1803 due to mental illness), while she became Prud'hon's closest collaborator. He would also prepare compositions of history paintings and allegories for her (P348) and exhibit at the Salon under her own name reflecting the fact that women did not have access to a full training as history painters. Like in many workshop situations, questions of attribution are often difficult to settle. In 1810 (presumably on the death of her father from whom she inherited some an important amount of money) she acquired a studio adjoining Prud'hon's in the Sorbonne.

In 1821 the government requisitioned the Sorbonne. This threat to their living arrangement and Prud'hon's refusal to marry her after the death of his wife, led her to take her own life in her studio on 26 May 1821. Prud'hon completed her last picture, 'The Poverty-Stricken Family (Une famille dans la désolation)', and showed it in the 1822 Salon under his name. When Prud'hon died in 1823 he was buried with her at Père-Lachaise.