Femme of the Week: Marie Anne Pierrette | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Femme of the Week: Marie Anne Pierrette

January 02, 2009

Femme of the Week: Marie Anne Pierrette

"Madame appears to be an agreeable woman. She is tolerably handsome, but from her manner it would seem that she thinks her forte is the understanding rather than her person."
Marie Anne Pierrette was born in 1768, the only daughter of the well known Jacques Paulze de Chastenolles. Her father hosted a popular salon where the bright minds of the day gathered. This included scientists and economists who never failed to stop by. As you can imagine, Marie Anne became ac costumed to the language, humor and ideas her abridged family spoke of. Second nature even!

A sponge of a child, she became very clever early on, and like her father had a desire to learn. She was accomplished for her age, who played the pianoforte, a favorite of hers was Bach. Personality wise she was fiery and sharp. Her mother died when she was very young and she had the responsibility over her head to mature fast, and become the lady of the house. She assumed responsibilities and acted in a level headed and logical manner. By the age of 13 she behaved with the maturity of a 18 year old, helpful and caring, yet easy to have conversation with.

One man who attended her father's salon was the smart, young and sexy chemist, Antoine Lavoisier. He was thrilled to be in such agreeable company as the philosophers and artists who attended Paulze's salon, he felt it an honor, although he found the colonial dress of a Mr. Benjamin Franklin a bit casual. He loved the ideas and wit that filled the evenings. To Marie Anne it was all old hat! She would sometimes have conversations with him, in which she never quite ended it, like a girl over extending her moment... she would always slip a final line in. It caught his attention, "He would glance up, innocently enough, from a conversation and find the blue eyes just turning away." And so it began! She was infatuated with the man, and he found her blue eyes, fine skin rather desirable. However, a marriage was already thought up for her! A mariage de convenance!

The Comte d'Amerval was the intended suitor, an idea acknowledged by her father, Madame Du Barry and Louis XV! The spitfire girl, had already made up her mind not to take that route - and in her fortunate case her father took her side, respected his girl's happiness and wishes.

She was married in 1771, at the age of 14. He was 28 at the time. O.k. so she was 14 at the time. You must be thinking, just a child!! But this was not fault, in this case. She was young enough to be a clean slate, to teach all about his interest and research, of which she was completely interested in. What he did she enjoyed, and she willingly learned all he had to say. In bed she brought all the charms of a woman, but when it came to work, research and for that matter business, she was both headstrong and determined. She was a fiery and ambitious beauty with red hair. No scientist could ask for more from a wife.

She noticed he was weak in English and she perfected hers so that she could translate books for him that listed all the modern experiments occurring in England. She studied under Jacques Louis David to develop her drawing skills. With these new skills she began drawing out her husbands experiments for a visual record. People talked of their domestic bliss, but there were uttering's of her not acting a proper lady, and being too male. Her husband had always hoped that with their children she would settle a little into a more domestic driven position, but they never had any children.

In 1794 she lost her father and her husband to the guillotine, and her life took a turn for unavoidable lonesomeness. She escaped prison and had many of her possessions returned to her. Her social circle thrived, and she was often with the rich and most popular groups...leading to her marriage in 1804 to Count Rumford. Who wouldn't want to marry Lavoisier's pretty and wealthy widow? They were apparently living happily together in Paris in 1806, but raging arguments shattered any chance of domestic happiness and the marriage fell apart. She lived until 1836, an advocate of her first love all the while. She lived for herself, mistress to her own life, independent and an intellectual.


  1. Thanks for this post!! Really interesting, I just love all the educated and gifted women, like her, in this era! And that portrait of her and Lavoisier is just adorable...

  2. How interesting! What a bright and strong-willed lady, and from such a young age. I'd love to read more about her. Thanks.

  3. I've always loved that portrait of the two of them. This is the first I've ever read about her. Is there a bio you can suggest?

  4. She was very smart, more an intellectual than a lady! * lady of the day.

    I have not found a biography on her, but she is highlighted in the book "International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950"
    By Catharine M. C. Haines, Helen M. Stevens. It is very interesting to browse through!

  5. Thank you for the info Lauren. I'd love to learn more about her.

  6. Oh this is quite interesting--Thank you for this post!

    Though there doesn't seem to be a good bio available for her, d'you perhaps know of one for her husband?

  7. What a wonderful post! I've always loved that portrait but I never knew very much about Lavoisier's wife until now. Thanks!