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Revealing My Reproduction of the Portrait La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist

WARNING: This blog post contains images of neoclassical art where partial nudity is portrayed. Viewer discretion is advised.

WARNING: This blog post contains images of neoclassical art where partial nudity is portrayed. Viewer discretion is advised.

Art is one of the human creations that brings me deep joy. I could spend hours in museums such as The MET. While I love all sorts of art, I am particularly drawn to neoclassic pieces. I fell in love with a piece called La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist and since the original sits in the Louvre in Paris, France (and is way out of my budget range) I had the painting reproduced. The reproduction sits beautifully in my reading nook and lends a stoic elegance to reading and tea time.

Tap 'play' to learn a little more about the artist, to learn what the painting meant for viewers in 1800 and what the painting means to me; I also show you the painting and then let you know if I recommend the company that reproduced the portrait for me.

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Marie-Guillemine Benoist, her wedded name, was born as Marie-Guillemine de Laville-Leroux in Paris, France on December 18th, 1768 into a middle class family. She began her training as an artist under Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and in 1786 she entered Jacques-Louis David's atelier.

Marie-Guillemine Benoist self portrait

In 1791, Benoist exhibited for the first time in Salon de Paris and during this period she also released a body of work entitled L'Innocence entre la vertu et le vice where she portrayed vice as a man, when it was traditionally represented by a woman, revealing her sensitivity to the injustices women faced and her desire to interpret this in her art.

"Her work, reflecting the influence of Jacques-Louis David, tended increasingly toward history painting by 1795. In 1800, she exhibited Portrait d'une négresse (as of 2019 renamed "Portrait to Madeleine"[2]) in the Salon. Six years previously, slavery had been abolished, and this image became a symbol for women's emancipation and black people's rights. The picture was acquired by Louis XVIII for France in 1818." (

Marie-Guillemine Benoist died on October 8, 1826 at the young age of 57 but not before completing 11 bodies of work and making a name for herself in the neoclassic genre.



La Negresse, scholarly named The Portrait of Madeleine

La Negresse, French for the negro woman, was painted, not just to capture the woman's likeness, but to incite her viewers to think. A negro woman clad in lavish fabrics and sitting on an ornate chair looking fondly and confidently at her painter and seemingly disregarding the exposure of her right breast. What would have gone through the mind of a viewer living in the year 1800 and seeing this portrait for the first time?

First, slaves had just been liberated only 6 years prior and the discussion on whether slaves should be free was still alive and well considering that America would not abolish slavery for another 6 decades. Seeing a negro woman in this context would have pushed the viewers to see negros as human, deserving human rights. And she's a woman, a woman who owns her sexuality and her body. Her body is her own and her ways are her own. Should women be allowed to stay unmarried if they wish? Should they be allowed to own their own lives and futures? La Negresse would have incited the viewer to ask questions surrounding the plight of women and basic human rights.

My First Impression

When I saw La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist I was intrigued by how the artist was able to capture the grace and strength in the subject's face and eyes. The negro woman smiles fondly at her painter but if you cover her mouth and look at her eyes you can see pain and experience. These are not innocent or playful eyes. The subject has obviously seen hard times and is still suppressed as she wears a headscarf* but she exercises the freedoms that she does have with elegance and regality it is almost palpable. This is what I can see in La Negresse as an African American woman.



Gabie's reproduction of La Negresse hanging in her reading nook


Artist: Marie-Guillemine Benoist

Name of Piece: The Portrait of Madeleine, formerly known as The Negress

Type: Oil on canvas

Size: 31 x 35 inches (78.74 x 88.9 cm) [framed] - framed by Handmade Piece

Price: $495.00 - 10% discount = $445.50

Shipping: Express (3-7 days) - Free Shipping by DHL, UPS, FedEx, EMS

After research and reviewing testimonials, I decided to go with a company called Handmade Piece to have La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist reproduced. I was expecting to get a painting that match the resemblance of the subject if not definitely, then almost perfectly. This is the first painting that the artist created:

Reproduction No. 1 of La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist

In the first reproduction, I noticed that the negro woman's features had been softened and rounded; the cheek bones, the slight point on her earlobes, and even her lips had been reduced in volume. Honestly, when looking at the first reproduction, I immediately thought of Asiatic features and began to believe that perhaps the artist was Asian. I also noticed that the subject is looking directly at the viewer, whereas in the original painting, the subject is looking slightly to her right. Could an Asian man have painted my reproduction? Oddly, I was intrigued by this interpretation of blackness.

A close-up of subject's face in Reproduction No. 1

I spoke with the Handmade Piece representative that was working with me and explained my concerns about the painting. I wanted to see the pain but grace in the woman's face, as I saw these in the original portrait. I didn't want the subject's face to look so innocent, because in the original portrait, I felt like I could detect pain and experience behind the subject's eyes. The artist went to work with my suggestions and came up with this:

Reproduction No. 2 of La Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist

The painting is slightly improved as the facial features were made less round, the subject's lips were painted to be more full and the eyes reflect less innocence and more pain and experience. However, I realized that the pain and grace that I see in the photo are perhaps reflections of my own experience. Because myself and the negro woman have similar pasts and experiences as black women, I am able to see the effects of such reflected in her eyes, her posture, her facial features. Now, this reproduction takes on a different meaning for me: Reproducing the black experience is not easy for someone who has not lived it.

The Chinese artist's interpretation of "pain" and "grace".

My experience with having La Negresse reproduced was an interesting one and I honestly have a greater appreciation for Benoist and her ability to capture the essence of the negro woman with her paintbrush.

However, there are other paintings that I would like to be reproduced and I really just want them to look like the originals. So, I wouldn't recommend Handmade Piece since I am not sure if the reproductions will look like the original or not. When it comes to portraiture, you really just want the person to look like the person, not an entirely different subject. There are some other companies that I have researched and I'll keep you updated on any work they do for me.


Art Inspired By The Negress...


I don't feel quite too safe going to museum's just yet, I can't wait until Covid-19 is a real part of the past and why don't we just throw in this entire year while we're at it! Although art may be inaccessible to the public at the moment, the art we have in our homes can be forever inspiring.


What type of art do you like?

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