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Artists Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Photo

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

French Painter, Portraitist

Movements and Styles: The Rococo, Neoclassicism

Born: April 16, 1755 - Paris, France

Died: March 30, 1842 - Paris, France

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Timeline

Quotes

"I had left my principal effects and my jewels in Paris, and the fruit of my labors was in the hands of my husband, who spent it all. I lived abroad solely on the proceeds of my painting."
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
"It is not surprising that after criticizing the works of David, which you evidently do not know at all, you do me the honor of criticizing mine, which you know no better. Being ignorant of the English language, I had not been able to read what you wrote about my painting, and when I was told, without being given the particulars, that you had abused me soundly, I answered that, however much you might disparage my pictures, all the worst you could say of them would be less than I think. [...] Nevertheless, being now more fully informed, and knowing that your criticism bears principally on a point that appears important to me, I believe my duty is to repudiate it in the interest of art."
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

"But I could now paint no longer; my broken spirit, bruised with so many horrors, shut itself entirely to my art."

Synopsis

Grace, elegance and a welcoming manner, these words might as easily describe the personalities portrayed in the portraits by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, as the artist herself. Normally a tedious process, Vigée Le Brun's reputation as a lively conversationalist, in addition to her demonstrably expert talent as a painter, were significant to a clientele that often dreaded the notion of having a portrait made. The active engagement between the artist and her subject is evident in the finished portrait, as her sitters appear both relaxed and animated. She quickly won over her most famous and loyal supporter, none other than the controversial Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. In her hands, we see Marie Antoinette take on the roles of queen, equestrian, fashionista, and mother - some portraits are scandalous while others follow royal protocol.

Madame Le Brun, as she was commonly known, was an embodiment of French aristocratic culture, which remained a key trait of her style and success in her period of self-imposed exile during the French Revolution. In all, the prodigious artist produced approximately 800 paintings with a long list of royal patrons actively seeking her flattering portrayals across Europe. Although the portraits of Vigée Le Brun might look traditional to contemporary viewers, she was not shy in breaking established norms in the genre of portraiture. For example, the welcoming gestures and slightly open-mouthed smile, as if in greeting, found in many of her portraits caused quite a stir when first debuted. What first caused scandal, however, soon became style, as the pleasing naturalism and relaxed manner of Vigée Le Brun's portraits became immensely popular among the elite and trademark of the artist's distinctive style.

Key Ideas

The odds facing women artists in the 18th century were nearly insurmountable. The vast majority of women who were able to make a living in the arts learned their trade from their fathers, as did a young Elisabeth Vigée. Her father's early death, however, and the inability for women to receive training as an apprentice or in the academy, meant that the artist was virtually self-taught. From such inauspicious beginnings, Vigée Le Brun developed into one of the leading artists in all of Europe, able to command higher prices for her portraits than any other artist of her time.
Vigée Le Brun's fame was secured in 1778 when she was summoned to paint her first portrait of the young Queen Marie Antoinette. From that point, Vigée Le Brun was the queen's favorite portraitist, creating 30 portraits over the next decade of the ruler who preferred fashion to royal protocol, often causing a scandal in the process. For example, on more than one occasion, the queen preferred a sense of autonomy in her portrayal as opposed to the lavish trappings of the French court, donning the simple attire of a peasant (or the queen's notion of a peasant).
The Rococo style was in decline by the time of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun's introduction to the French royal court. In her able hands, however, she deftly combined the grace and elegance of this earlier style with the composure and decorum of the nascent trend of Neoclassicism. Although she would never adopt the hard, linear style associated with the high Neoclassical tradition, most notably in the history paintings of her contemporary, Jacques-Louis David, she found ways to integrate notions of the past, such as in adopting the attire of antiquity, into her portraiture.
French culture was widely influential in Europe during the 18th century. Whereas her royalist position would put Vigée Le Brun's life in danger in revolutionary France, it was an asset to the artist abroad. Her highly sought-after style of portraiture represented the height of aristocratic French culture to patrons in Italy, Austria and, perhaps above all, the Russian court of Catharine the Great dramatically increasing the prestige of the artist.

Biography

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Photo

Childhood

The daughter of a French pastel portraitist, Élisabeth Louise Vigée was born in Paris in 1755. In her published memoirs, titled Souvenirs, she describes how she was attracted to drawing from a very early age, admitting, "I scrawled on everything at all seasons; my copy-books, and even those of my schoolmates had their margins crammed with tiny drawings of heads and profiles." Her doting father, Louis Vigée, enthusiastically encouraged her nascent artistic efforts, allowing her free reign of his studio and materials.

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Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Interactive chart with Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Peter Paul RubensPeter Paul Rubens
Anthony van Dyck
Jean-Baptiste Greuze

Personal Contacts

Claude Joseph Vernet
Hubert Robert

Movements

The BaroqueThe Baroque
The RococoThe Rococo
NeoclassicismNeoclassicism

Influences on Artist
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Years Worked: circa 1770-1824
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Marie Benoist

Personal Contacts

Movements

The RococoThe Rococo

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Loïc Desplanques

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Molly Enholm

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Loïc Desplanques
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Molly Enholm
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