Her Husband's Helpmeet, and After
Mme. Lavoisier ran a popular salon, to be sure. But from early on in
her marriage she took instruction in chemistry to help her husband
in his work. She learned to read English to translate important
books from a language Lavoisier lacked. Mme. Lavoisier learned to
draw from Jacques-Louis David. His expensively commissioned portrait
of the couple (published in American Scientist,
January–February 1996) tells us of their
relationship. The two are physically close, her arm rests on his
shoulder. But there is a distance between them. To me there is also
a certain tension in the leaning posture of Mme. Lavoisier—am
I imagining that she is pressing in, and would like to enter
Lavoisier's realm of instruments in the right-hand part of the
picture? Lavoisier looks at his wife—she looks out as us, at
the world. They had no children.
After her husband's death, Mme. Lavoisier herself spent 65 days in
jail. Emerging, she recovered his confiscated books and kept his
works in print. Long loved by Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, she
rejected him. In 1805 she married the American/ British/Bavarian
adventurer, inventor and scientist Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford.
The marriage was an unhappy one—it's reported that she poured
boiling water on his flowers—and ended four years later. Mme.
Lavoisier lived on until 1836.
There is no biography of Mme. Lavoisier. I think she deserves an opera.