Picardet, Claudine

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(b. Dijon, France, 7 August 1735; d. Paris, France, 4 October 1820),

chemistry, mineralogy, meteorology, translation.

Picardet was one of the few women who was notably active in science in late-eighteenth-century France. With the translation of dozens of scientific papers and three volumes into French from several foreign languages to her credit, she was one of the primary translators of chemistry and mineralogy at the time of the chemical revolution. Her scientific work also included meteorological observations made for the great chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.

Early Life Claudine was the first child of a wealthy royal notary who had bought a fief and aspired to nobility, François Poulet de Champlevey. At twenty, she married Claude Picardet, a barrister and councillor at the Table de marbre (Marble table)—one of the high judicial courts of Burgundy—who soon thereafter became a member of the Académie royale des sciences, arts, et belles-lettres de Dijon (Dijon academy of sciences, arts, and literature) and later the director of its botanical garden. Picardet thus became a learned woman and received the bourgeoisie and high society of the provincial capital town in her. Her only son died in 1776 at age nineteen, soon after being called to the bar; he had been a promising student at both François Devosges’s school of drawing and in Louis Bernard Guyton de Morveau’s chemistry courses at the Dijon Academy.

Picardet’s Translations A close friend of Guyton de Morveau, Picardet also attended his famous courses and their replications of foreign chemical experiments. In 1782, with the help of Jacques Magnien, a barrister and an amateur linguist, and under Guyton de Morveau’s scientific supervision, she entered the small group he had created around the local academy to disseminate foreign chemistry works in France. Most participants in the group were members of the Dijon Academy, including Jacques-Pierre Champy, Jean Lemulier de Bressey, Claude Varenne de Béost, Charles André Hector Grossart de Virly, and the Spanish mineralogist Francisco Javier de Angulo, later the director general of the Mines in Spain. In nine years, Picardet translated into French from four foreign languages some eight hundred pages on chemistry or miner-alogy and one paper on astronomical observations by Thomas Bugge. Six of her authors were Swedish (primarily Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Torbern Olof Bergman), six were German (including Johann Christian Wiegleb, Johann Friedrich Westrumb, Johann Carl Friedrich Meyer, and Martin Heinrich Klaproth), two were English (Richard Kirwan and William Fordyce), and one was Italian (Marsilio Landriani). After signing only as “Mme P.*** de Dijon” in her first few years as a translator, she claimed her full identity in July 1786. By this time, her name was already known among scientists, and Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande published it in the Journal des savants (Journal of scholars) in reviewing her edition of Scheele’s collected papers.

One-half of the papers that she translated were published in the leading scientific journal, Observations sur la physique (Observations on physics) run by Abbé François Rozier, Abbé Jean-André Mongez, and Jean-Claude de la Métherie. A few were given to the Journal des savants, to the Nouvelles de la république des lettres et des arts (News of the republic of letters and arts) before 1789, then to the Annales de chimie (Annals of chemistry) until a last paper translated from Klaproth appeared in 1797. Lastly, one-third of her translations were gathered and published in the two volumes of Scheele’s Mémoires de chymie (1795; Memoirs of chemistry), a model for later editions in other languages, notably Thomas Beddoes’s English edition of 1786. Picardet added footnotes or long endnotes, most of them by Guyton but probably including some she had written herself. She also provided the first translation of a book published in 1774 by Abraham Gottlob Werner; her edition of his Traité des caractères extérieurs des fossiles(1790; Treatise on the external characteristics of fossils) was actually a second edition, with additions by the author and comments by the translator, together with an introductory methodological note about her translation— published fifteen years before Thomas Weaver’s translation into English in 1805. She received congratulations from the Dijon Academy for both these publications.

Two other important translations of the 1780s are sometimes ascribed to Picardet: James R. Partington states that she translated the greater part of Guyton’s edition of Bergman’s Opuscula physica et chemica from Latin into French as Opuscules chymiques et physique (2 vols., 1780–1785; Physical and chemical essays). She is also believed to have helped Marie Anne Paulze, wife of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, in translating Kirwan’s An Essay on Phlogiston (Essai sur le Phlogistique, 1788). It may have been, however, that Picardet merely assisted Guyton in his work, while Paulze-Lavoisier may simply have been encouraged to follow her model.

From 1785, Picardet belonged to Lavoisier’s network for meteorological data—the other members of which were professors and correspondents of the Royal Academy of Science. She made daily observations on the barometer that Lavoisier had given to the academy. Her results were read and published in part by her husband at the academy and sent to Lavoisier.

After her first husband’s death in 1796, she moved to Paris and in 1798 married Guyton de Morveau, then a deputy in the lower chamber of the national legislature, the Conseil des Cinq-Cents (Council of five hundred) and a professor of chemistry at, and the director of, the École polytechnique (Polytechnic institute) in Paris. During Napoleon’s reign, as Baroness Guyton-Morveau, she entertained the scientific elite.

Praise for Her Work A number of French scientists (Georges-Louis de Buffon, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Claude-Louis Berthollet, Antoine-François de Fourcroy, Joseph-Jérôme de Lalande, René-Just Haüy, and others) spoke of her in the most laudatory terms, as did foreign scholars such as Kirwan, Landriani, and Arthur Young. Visiting Guyton in the summer of 1789, Young wrote: “Madame Picardet is as agreeable in conversation as she is learned in the closet; a very pleasing unaffected woman;… a treasure to M. de Morveau, for she is able and willing to converse with him on chymical subjects, and on any others that tend either to instruct or please” (Young, 1909, 4.66 [2]).

Significance of Her Work Although Picardet neither performed any original work in chemistry nor contributed to the chemical revolution by preparing a major translation, she played an important role as an eighteenth-century woman in science. She published twice as much as Marie Anne Paulze-Lavoisier, who merely followed her model. Nor did any male translator in chemistry publish as much as she did in the 1780s, with the exception of Dr. Jacques Gibelin. Thus, her work notably contributed to the dissemination of chemistry at a crucial time, especially regarding the chemistry of salts and minerals; it also contributed to the birth of new specialized scientific journals and to the definition of certain editorial features (including dates of first publication), and to the recognition of scientific translators as authors. Finally, thanks to her work and Guyton’s activity, a mere provincial academy received international recognition.



Translator. Mémoires de chymie de M. By Carl Wilhelm Scheele. 2 vols. Dijon, France: L’éditeur, 1785; Paris: Théophile Barrois Jr., 1785.

Translator. Traité des caractères extérieurs des fossiles. By Abraham Gottlob Werner. Dijon, France: L. N. Frantin and Mailly, 1790; Paris: Onfroy, 1790.


Bret, Patrice. Mme P*** de Dijon: Sociabilités savantes, traduction scientifique et presse spécialisée à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2007.

Poirier, Jean-Pierre. Histoire des femmes de science en France: Du Moyen Âge à la Révolution. Paris: Pygmalion-Gérard Watelet, 2002.

Rayner-Canham, Marelene, and Geoffrey Rayner-Canham. Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society and Chemical Heritage Foundation, 1998.

Young, Arthur. Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789. Edited by Matilda Bentham-Edwards. London: George Bell and Sons, 1909.

Patrice Bret