Monday, March 21, 2016


Vigee Le Brun Self Portrait 1790
Marie Antoinette may have lost her head but the renowned French portraitist, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun kept her own by fleeing France during one of the most eventful, turbulent periods in European history. An autodidact with exceptional skills she was trained exclusively in portraiture, a properly feminine pursuit.  Le Brun (1755-1842) became one of the finest 18th-century French painters and stands among the most important of all women artists.
      VIGEE LE BRUN; WOMAN ARTIST IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE is the first retrospective and only the second exhibition devoted to the artist in modern times. France's last great royal portraitist on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents 80 works of paintings and a few pastels from European and American public and private collections through May 15, 2016
       In her teens Mademoiselle Vigee, chaperoned by her mother, was already working independently as a portraitist and contributing to the support of her family.  The seeds of training had begun with her father, a professional pastel portraitist who died when she was 12 years old and by the time she was nineteen she exhibited publicly for the first time at the Salon of the Academie de Saint-Luc. It's a familiar story of female exploitation. While she garnered high fees for her work, at first, Vigee Le Brun's stepfather made off with much of her earnings.  Then, too, critics at large said that her work was too good to have actually been done by a woman, in fact, that it must have been done by a man.
Queen Marie Antoinette wih a Rose 1783
      In 1776, escaping into a marriage of convenience, she married the principal art dealer and expert in 18th-century Paris, Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, with whom she had a daughter, Julie. She often portrayed Julie, her favorite subject as well as other children, a skill that was even more difficult than being one of the first major female artists. 
    At 23, Vigee Le Brun was summoned to Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). The Queen and the painter were only a few months apart in age and the fact that both had lost a child during the time they were together may have forged a sympathy between them. Nonetheless, Vigee Le Brun, a pastel portraitist daughter, was hardly considered a peer. Don't miss the earliest of three full-length portraits of the queen: Marie Antoinette in Court Dress and the most important painting of the queen, commissioned as a propaganda piece for the monarchy, Marie Antoinette and Her Children in which she is presented as a regal mother with the dauphin and his two siblings.  Previously denied entry to the august The Academie Royal because her husband was a dealer and association with trade was prohibited, Vigee Le Brun was able to gain access only when Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI intervened.
       Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun saw the tides were changing in 1789 when crowds of 7,000 pitchfork-waving rebels marched on Versailles. She was forced to flee France because of her association with the queen and traveled with her daughter to Italy.
Baronne de Crussol Florensac, 1785
 In 1790, she was elected to membership in The Academia di San Luca, Rome. Independently her royal brush found its way to Florence, Naples, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. She amassed a fortune painting, among many others, the queen of Naples and her children, Louis XVI's aunts, and Napoleon's sister Caroline, who became queen of Naples. She took sittings from members of the family of Catherine the Great and from the former king of Poland.

    Vigee Le Brun finally returned to France in 1805 and later published her memoirs, giving voice to details about her art and life in late 18th-century Europe. 
     Hob-nobbing with royal patrons she painted females, males and children gaining world recognition. Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun is among the most important of all women artists.
    Ta Ta Darlings!! This is a delightful show of portraiture. Additional information about the exhibition and accompanying programs are available on the Museum website as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #VigeeLeBrun.  Fan mail always welcome please contact Polly at Visit for access to links in the left-hand column to Polly's other Blogs: womendeterminedtosucceed, visionarymen, poetryfromtheheart, and storytellingessays.

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