Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin, was born of a noble Burgundian family, but her father's bankruptcy changed her destiny. Growing up in poverty, she acquired an encyclopedic knowledge and searched for a wealthy husband. In 1762, she married Charles de Genlis, a colonel of the grenadiers, who afterwards became Marquis de Sillery, but this did not interfere with her determination and social ambitions. Through the introduction of her aunt, the marquise de Montesson, mistress and later morganatic wife of the Duke of Orléans, she met the son of the Duke of Orléans, the later Philippe-Egalité who had just got married, and became his mistress. She also acquired the title of Governess of the Orléans Princesses and, in 1782, that of Governess of the three sons of her lover. Initially adamant of the ideas of the French Revolution, she emigrated in 1791. Later, Napoleon used her as a spy. The return of the Bourbons in 1815 changed her life for the worse and she had to live on the royalties from her numerous previous novels.
A similar portrait of Madame de Genlis by Marie-Gabrielle Capet's teacher Adélaïde Labille-Guiard is illustrated in A. M. Passez, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Paris, 1973, p. 233, pl. LXXXIX.