Sunday, November 6, 2016

1755-1842: Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, French

Self-portrait, 1790

Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun painted portraits of women that are so winsome, charming, and radiant that it doesn’t matter that her sitters have all been idealized into a sort of family resemblance. It is easy to understand why so many of her works have slipped into American collections.

Her life is well known because she wrote her own memoir, Souvenirs, which is available online and quite readable.

Background: Marie-Louise-Élisabeth Vigée was the daughter of a portraitist, Louis Vigée. Her mother Jeanne was a hairdresser.

Training: Élisabeth's father gave her training in basic art skills, but he died when she was 12. She continued training with various colleagues of his.

Career: By the age of 15, Élisabeth was able to support her mother and younger brother with her portraits.

She became a licensed artist in 1774, at the age of 19.

At the age of 19, in 1776,  Élisabeth married the painter and art dealer Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun. He promoted her work through his connections to the art and business worlds.

After she was married, she began exhibiting her work at salons she held in her own home. She began to paint portraits of nobility.

In 1780, age 23, Élisabeth gave birth to a daughter, known as Julie.

In her mid-twenties, Élisabeth became the favorite portraitist and confidante of Marie-Antoinette. Over a period of 6 years, Élisabeth painted more than 30 portraits of the queen and her family. The Queen was influential in getting Élisabeth appointed to the French Royal Academy. The night the queen was arrested, Élisabeth made a dramatic escape from Paris with Julie; the artist was 34 at the time, and Julie was 9.

Élisabeth entered twelve years of exile: four in Italy, two in Austria, six in Russia. She was a beautiful woman and she must have been charming as well, because she was popular everywhere she went. She painted portraits of Europe’s most celebrated residents, gained admission into several academies, and amassed a considerable fortune.

While she was gone, her husband was briefly imprisoned, and in 1794 they divorced, which was good for her finances as well as his safety.

With her ex-husband's help she was able to return to Paris in 1802, and her wealth allowed her to live in comfort for another forty years. She continued to travel in order to paint portraits of the European elite.

My photos of Élisabeth's Work:

The Artist's Brother, 1773
St. Louis / Jan's photo, 2013

Portrait of Madame Du Barry, 1781
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2012

Self-portrait, 1981
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2012

Portrait of Marie Gavrielle de Gramont, Duchesse de Caderousse, 1784
Nelson-Atkins / Jan's photo, 2013

Bacchante, 1785
Clark / Jan's photo, 2013

Portrait of Madame Molé-Reymond, 1786
Louvre / Jan's photo, 2015

The Marquise de Pezay, and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien, 1787
National Gallery / Jan's photo, 2010

Alexandre Charles Emmanuel de Crussol-Florensac, 1787
Metropolitan / Jan's photo, 2015

Portrait of Madame Rousseau and her son, 1789
Louvre / Jan's photo, 2015

Madame d'Aguesseau de Fresnes, 1789
National Gallery / Jan's photo, 2010

Madame Vigée-Le Brun and her Daughter, 1789
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Hyacinthe Gabrielle Roland, 1791
Legion of Honor
Jan's Photo, 2017

Portrait of Countess Maria Teresia Bucquoi, nee Parr, 1793
Minneapolis / Jan's photo, 2013

Portrait of Princess Natalia Ivanovna, 1797
Utah / Jan's photo, 2013

Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov, c. 1797
North Carolina / Jan's photo, 2010

Princess Eudocia as Flora, 1799
Utah / Jan's photo, 2013

Portrait of Natalia Nakharovna Kolychova, née Hitrova, 1799
Dallas / Jan's photo, 2012

Vicomtesse de Vandreuil, early 19th C.
Hood / Jan's photo, 2012

Madame Therese Vestry, 1803
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

Internet Examples

Julie Lebrun, 1787