Friday, January 26, 2007

Madame Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

Madame Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun was court portrait painter at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI. She painted Marie-Antoinette many times, capturing the queen's soul while simultaneously perfecting her own art. In her Memoirs, she describes the queen thus:

Her arms were superb, her hands small and perfectly formed, and her feet charming. She had the best walk of any woman in France, carrying her head erect and with a dignity that stamped her queen in the midst of her whole court; and yet this majestic mien in no wise diminished the sweetness and gentleness of her expression. Her features were not regular; she had inherited the long and narrow oval peculiar to the Austrian race- her eyes, almost blue in color, were rather small - her nose was delicate and pretty, and her mouth not too large, although her lips were somewhat thick. But the most remarkable thing about her face was her brilliant complexion. I have never seen any so dazzling.

Here is a link to the gallery of portraits of the queen painted by Madame Vigee-Lebrun, as well as one to a biography of the artist.

Charles Blanc in Histoire Des Peintres wrote:

All the fairies gathered around the cradle of Elisabeth Vigee as at the birth of a little princess in the kingdom of art. One endowed her with beauty, another with wit; the fairy Grace presented her with a pencil and a palette. It is true that the fairy Marriage, who had not been invited, told her that she was to wed Monsieur Le Brun, the connoisseur in pictures; but to comfort her the fairy Travel promised to guide her from court to court, from academy to academy, from Paris to Rome, to St. Petersburg and to London, with her gaiety, her talents, and her easel before which all the sovereigns of Europe, as well as all those whom genius had crowned, should pose as subjects for her brush.

As a painter Madame Vigee Le Brun belongs wholly and distinctly to the eighteenth century; that is to say, to that period in the history of French art which was brought to an abrupt termination by the works of Louis David. So long as she followed the counsels of Joseph Vernet her pencil evinced a certain suppleness and her brush a certain force; but unfortunately she too often sought especially was this the case in her later works - o imitate Greuze, and weakened the likeness to her models by an exaggerated mistiness. She became the fashion so early in her life that she was debarred from any thorough study, and she was too frequently satisfied with a clever suggestiveness in her portraits.

Without estimating her so leniently as she was in her own day estimated by the French Academy, we nevertheless must needs assign Madame Le Brun an honorable place in the history of painting in France; for, notwithstanding revolutions and reforms, she continued to pursue, as long as she lived, the dainty and delicate art of Watteau, of Nattier, and of Fragonard-an art at once graceful and intrinsically French.-From the French

One of my favorites is a sketch the artist did of Marie-Antoinette after her death, showing her going to heaven, where Louis and the two children who died are awaiting her. The artist, who was a friend of the queen, was too overcome with grief to finish the picture. Share

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