In the eighteenth century, the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in France capped the number of women members at any one time at four, as well as denying them entry into life drawing classes. Anne Vallayer-Coster was one of the 'lucky' four to gain admission, in 1770, going on to exhibit at several of the Paris salons. Known mainly for her still-lifes of flowers, fruit and seashells, it was her portraits and life-scenes that won her the patronage of Marie Antoinette and her sister. The subject matter for the 'Portrait of a Violinist' is extraordinary in itself; women violinists were few and far between in the eighteenth century. The hands seem strong and well-practised; there is a shadow under the chin where the violin has clearly rested. The scroll is a fascinating detail, as are the untrimmed strings.
How often do the lives of the women in this calendar begin with their birth into an artistic/musical family! Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was no exception, yet more proof of the fundamental importance of role models and the availibility of, and access to, artistic stimuli and practice. At five, de la Guerre made her first appearance as a harpsichordist in the court of Louis XIV, subsequnetly remaining under his patronage for several years. As a composer, she produced harpsichord pieces, trio sonatas and cantatas; her one opera was sadly not a success. De la Guerre was also an extremely successful salonière, creating a series of concerts in her own home that ran for some time. Her Second Sonata in D Major for violin and continuo is a wonderfully-crafted exultation that proves Louis XIV's opinion: 'Dinner being over, His Majesty spoke to Mlle de la Guerre in a most gracious manner; after having praised her sonatas extensively, he said to her that they could not be compared to any other such works. Mlle de la Guerre could not have received higher praise, for these words revealed that the King had not only found her music to be most fine, but also to be original — a quality that today is extremely rare.'