Hortense Haudebourt Lescot (1784 - 1845)


Antoinette Cécile Hortense Haudebourt-Lescot was among the most celebrated women painters in the early decades of the 19th century.  In fact, she was one of seven female artists featured in François Joseph Heim’s monumental painting depicting Charles X distributing awards to the artists at the Salon of 1824 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). At the time, this would have been a major accomplishment for a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men. 


As a young girl, Haudebourt-Lescot was regarded as one of the most accomplished dancers in Paris; however it was her early passion for painting that changed the course of her career. A precocious artistic talent, she began studying at age ten with the popular history painter and family friend,  Guillaume Guillon Lethière.  In an apparent disregard for what most likely was considered scandalous, the 25 year old Haudebourt-Lescot followed Lethière to Rome in 1809, two years after he was appointed director of the Académie de France there.  As a result, Haudebourt-Lescot became the first female painter to obtain arts training in Italy, a reward traditionally given to the winners of the Prix de Rome, a competition that excluded women.  This trip was instrumental to her career.  While in Italy, she met some of the most influential artists, among them Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who drew her portrait, and the sculptor Antonio Canova.  She also keenly observed Italian customs and traditions, which would provide a primary source of inspiration for her trademark genre paintings. In addition, she became interested in a small-scale format for these pictures, a style favored by 17th century Dutch masters, such as Gerard ter Borch and Gabriël Metsu.  This more miniature format was contrary to the large scale works preferred by the Neoclassical school and opposite the grandiose compositions painted by its leader, Jacques Louis David.  In fact, Haudebourt-Lescot’s genre paintings prefigured the popular Italian picturesque scenes executed a few years later by artists such as Leopold Robert and Guillaume Bodinier. 


Haudebourt-Lescot returned to Paris in 1816 and in 1820 married Louis-Pierre Haudebourt, an architect she had met in Rome.  She remained very active in the art world, taught painting to women of the Court and received commissions from the French government for the museum at Versailles, as well as from aristocratic patrons, such as the Duchesse de Berry.  She exhibited a total 110 paintings at the Salon during her 30 year career and achieved a degree of recognition in her lifetime that was highly unusual for women artists at the time.  Her paintings were so popular that they were copied and widely distributed in numerous engravings, a testimony to her widespread fame and the breadth of her production.