(Élisabeth Sophie Le Hay [married name])
born on October 3, 1648 in Paris/ France
died on September 3, 1711 in Paris/ France
French painter, poet, musician
375th birthday on October 3, 2023
Extremely gifted, tremendously versatile, and highly educated, Élisabeth Sophie Chéron was extolled by her contemporaries as a muse “inspired by the gods.” Refusing to accept the conventional view of female artists as muses or other divine figures, she noted in response to the fawning praise that “the muses do not so readily obey me…,” and thus clearly saw herself as an artist whose creativity was solely of her own making.
She used all the techniques of painting in her works. Her coveted pastel miniatures were considered the best of the time. Her oeuvre, now largely lost, included genre paintings, landscapes, biblical and historical subjects as well as the self-portraits (many commissioned) and allegorical portraits of well-known personalities that constituted the majority of her works. In addition to painting, she also mastered the arts of drawing, engraving, and gem cutting.
In 1672, Chéron was unanimously accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture on the basis of two portraits she submitted including a self-portrait; she exhibited regularly at the annual salon until 1704. She was also considered an excellent musician and lyricist and was honored for this with admission to the Académie Royale des Lettres in 1676.
She translated Latin verses into French and translated from Hebrew the Psalms of David, some of which she set to music and published in 1694 with illustrations by her younger brother. Although she was also said to have written plays, it was her poems that drew attention to her from as far away as Italy: in 1699, she became a member the Accademia dei Ricoverati in Padua, appropriately under the name Erato, the muse of lyric and love poetry. According to some reports, she herself had previously spent a long time in Italy, studying mainly the art of the antiquity.
What was the background of this accomplished artist with such an extensive education at a time when education was not necessarily commonplace for women? Chéron grew up in a large Calvinist family of artists and was first schooled by her father Henri Chéron, a miniature painter, enameller and engraver.
The difficult situation of Protestant families prior to the 1685 repeal of the Edict of Nantes, which granted Protestants freedom of worship, and the influence of her Catholic mother induced Chéron to convert to Catholicism with her sister in 1668. An early portrait painted in the Huguenot tradition showing her holding a sheet of music and austerely dressed in a Puritan costume stands in marked contrast to later self-portraits. Chéron was surely very much aware that her conversion would enable her to retain the patronage of those close to the royal court, especially since Louis XIV himself was said to have been impressed by her poetry and paintings.
Chéron supported the family by selling her paintings after her father, a staunch Calvinist, abandoned them. She married Jacques Le Hay, an engineer for King Louis XIV, relatively late in life at the age of 44. In the last years of her life, she published several books, including a collection of copper engravings based on her drawings of antique gems and reliefs, and Livre de Principes à Dessiner, a guide to the art of drawing.
(Text from 1997; translated with DeepL.com; edited by Ramona Fararo, 2023)
Please consult the German version for additional information (pictures, sources, videos, bibliography).
Author: Adriane von Hoop
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