Reframing History: Anne Vallayer-Coster

Portrait of Anne Vallayer-Coster by Alexander Roslin, 1783
Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in Water, 1774

Anne Vallayer-Coster was born near Paris in 1744 to a goldsmith and tapestry designer of the royal family. Like many women artists in the 18th century, she trained under her father but also gained some training from botanical specialist Madeleine Basseport and marine painter Joseph Vernet.

The Attributes of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture
The Attributes of Music

While she had training, without proper support, she was unable to fully pursue her career. Worried about her lack of recognition and sponsorship, she reluctantly submitted two still lifes (The Attributes of Painting and The Attributes of Music) to the Royal Academy as reception pieces in 1770. She was unanimously elected into the Royal Academy, making her one of only fourteen women accepted into the Academy prior to the French Revolution.

Along with the two works she submitted, nine more paintings were displayed in the Salon exhibit of 1771. After viewing the works, French philosopher and art critic said that “if all new members of the Royal Academy made a showing like Mademoiselle Vallayer’s, and sustained the same high level of quality, the Salon would look very different!”

She gained popularity for her floral still lives and in 1779, she enjoyed the patronage of Marie Antoinette. With her new patron’s support, Vallayer-Coster received space in the Louvre in 1781. Additionally, Marie Antoinette acted as witness to her marriage to wealthy lawyer Jean-Pierre Silvestre Coster and elevated the couple to the highest ranks of the bourgeoisies, the Nobles of the Robe.

All the support and progress made in her career crumbled with the French Revolution in 1789. While she had noble status and close connections to the throne, she was able to evade the capture and death during the Revolution but the fall of the monarchy deeply affected her career. She continued to quietly work for the Tapestry factory where her career first began and although during Napoleon’s reign, empress Josephine acquired two works from her in 1804, her reputation was significantly diminished.

She died in 1818 at the age of seventy-three having painted more then 120 still lives, filled with realism and vibrant colors which delight many still today. In the last two decades, several of Vallayer-Coster’s works have been acquired and exhibited throughout France and the United States.

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