Adèle Romany: Biography Of This Forgotten Neoclassical Painter


Adèle Romany, an excellent neoclassical portrait painter, is one of the many female names that have been forgotten and who have only recently begun to regain the place they deserve in the history of art. Also as is often the case, many of her works were attributed at the time to male painters, such as François Gérard (1770-1837) or to her own husband, the miniaturist François-Antonie Romany (1756-1839).

It is time to claim the place that Adèle deserves, as the great artist she was and as one of the greatest representatives of French neoclassical painting. A painter who exhibited no less than 80 works at the Paris Salon and was unanimously acclaimed in her time. Today we tell you about the career of this great Neoclassicist portrait painter: Adèle Romany.

Brief biography of Adèle Romany, great neoclassical portraitist

His magnificent portraits can be compared in quality to the excellent works of Élisabeth Vigée Lebrun (by the way, a great friend of his), or to those of François Gérard, both great portrait painters of their time. But, similar to what happened with Vigée Lebrun, Romany had it difficult simply for being a woman. However, she managed to carve out a niche for herself among the artists of the pre- and post-revolutionary era, and she painted the great personalities of politics, literature and the stage.

Illegitimate daughter of a marquis

Adèle’s birth occurred under common circumstances at the time. She came into the world in December 1769 as the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Romance-Mesnon and a woman married to another man, Jeanne-Marie-Bernardine Mercier. The girl took her mother’s last name and she spent almost all of her childhood without being recognized by her natural father. Finally, when she was nine years old, the marquis recognized her and she was able to officially use her surname.

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From then on, we find the artist under multiple names: Adèle de Romance (the illustrious surname of the progenitor), Madame Romanée and, after her marriage, Adèle Romany, the name by which she is best known. Her birth name, Jeanne-Marie Mercier, completely disappeared from her life.


At the Paris ladies’ academy

Little is known about his adolescence and early youth. We do know that he trained in the studio that the wife of the painter Jean-Baptiste Regnault, Sophie Meyer, had founded for young ladies who wanted to learn the art of painting. It was an interesting alternative to the official academies (reluctant to accept women), where girls who wanted it could receive artistic instruction from the wife of one of the most famous painters of the moment and, furthermore, an artist herself. own right.

Little by little, the young Adèle began her career as a painter and executed her first portraits that, although good, did not have that perfection of drawing and detail that we will observe in her later works. In her Portrait of a Young Harpist (1791), Romany takes a motif that will be recurring in her works: capturing the interested party playing an instrument.

We also appreciate this resource in his Portrait of Joseph Dominique Fabry Garat (1808), where the man appears playing a lyre (a “neoclassical” instrument par excellence), and in the portrait that makes him a pendant, the wonderful Portrait of a Lady before the pianoforte, where the painter, now an excellent capturer of textures, paints with extraordinary detail all the brocades and chiffons of the lady’s white dress.

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Most of Adèle Romany’s clients will be people related to the world of entertainment, which is why many of his portraits are preserved in the Comédie Française in Paris. A magnificent example is the Portrait of Mademoiselle Prevost from the Comic Opera (1830), already executed in the midst of Romanticism.

An illegitimate daughter, a marriage and a divorce

Little is known about Adèle’s union with François-Antoine Romany, although the circumstance that they had their only daughter (Aglaé-Emée) when they were not yet married may point to a marriage instigated by the strict morals of society, which did not could allow a couple to have a daughter without being united by the marital bond. The girl was born in 1788 and, two years later, both artists entered into a legal marriage.


In any case, it did not last long: in 1791, a year after marrying, Adèle and François divorced, taking advantage of the new civil legislation that appeared after the Revolution. He remarried in 1796 and had two children by his new wife. As for Adèle, it is known that she had two more natural children with other relationships.

We might think that divorce and the birth of two illegitimate children could have cut short Romany’s career, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is precisely in these years when his fame begins to take off. From 1793 to 1833 the artist presented her works at the Paris Salon, where she was acclaimed, and, in 1808, she won a medal (of course, second class) worth 250 francs.

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The lady of Neoclassicism

During the years of the Directory and, later, the Consulate, Adèle created countless portraits that present the essential characteristics of the neoclassical portrait: forceful and well-defined figures, dressed in the fashion of the time (inspired, of course, by Greek and Roman fashion), an impeccable drawing and a balanced and restful composition.

From the first years of the new century are the portraits of Amélie-Justine Laidin de la Bouterie, portrayed in a flowing white dress, a straw hat and some flowers in her hand; the Portrait of a Young Lady with a Lyre, of absolutely classic severity and majesty, and the exquisite Portrait of Aglaé-Constance Boudard, where the lady appears dressed in a red velvet dress of which Adèle is able to capture all the details of the shine and texture.

As the 19th century progressed, Adèle Romany’s star faded, until her name was completely forgotten. The lady of Neoclassicism died on June 6, 1846 in Paris, and she currently rests in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Fortunately, in recent years her work has been recovered, an excellent example of the majesty of French neoclassical portraiture, although we must not forget that the artist is also the author of more gallant works (La toilette) and of a more mythological nature (Lovers touching the lyre, 1802). Adèle’s choice to dedicate herself to portraiture may have been due to the impossibility for women to access the circuit of historical painting. Or it could simply be that the artist enjoyed transferring her characters to the canvas (in extreme detail).