Marie Louise Vigée Lebrun was a French artist born in 1755 and died in 1842, who devoted herself to painting, a discipline from which she cultivated the genre of portraiture, very common among Rococo painters, an artistic style of the sophisticated aristocratic society of the last stage of the old French regime, in which the characters are represented with great elegance in the context of palace life

Vigée Lebrun was a very talented and privileged woman artist. As she tells in her memoirs, her childhood was the symbol of her entire life, because her taste for painting was manifested from her childhood, when she demonstrated it by drawing and painting, an innate passion for art. In relation to her profession, the artist said: “Actually, it is to this divine passion that I owe not only my fortune, but also my happiness, because it has always been the means to meet the most charming and distinguished men and women in Europe.” By the way, she was able to do this in an artistic environment dominated by men without becoming masculinized or prostituting herself, as some detractors wanted to make out. Vigée Lebrun was very feminine, beautiful, and elegant, as can be seen in her self-portraits (1). In the same way, she knew how to combine her role as an artist and mother very well, without both roles being affected by each other.

1. Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Self portrait.
In addition to her talent and virtuosity as a painter, Vigée Lebrun added other factors that contributed to her fortunate life as an artist. She was the daughter of a prominent French portrait painter, a profession that allowed the Vigée family to be admitted into bourgeois artistic society. The first classes of painting and drawing were received from her father and, later, from other outstanding masters of the time.
When her mother became a widow, she married again, but Vigée Lebrun’s relationship with her stepfather wasn’t very satisfactory, and to remedy this dissatisfaction, her mother encouraged her to continue painting, which led the young artist to having her own studio at the age of 15, from which time she began to be paid for her trade as a portraitist. Then, at the suggestion of her mother ─and because she was no longer close to her stepfather─, she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun, a painter, collector and art dealer, a relationship that wasn’t very happy either, since her husband turned out to be a gambling addict and womanizer, vices in which he spent his fortune and part of the money she earned as a portrait artist, but she knew how to take advantage of his collection of masters, which she studied and copied to improve her technique, as well as her relationships as a dealer to promote her work; With him she also made a trip to the Netherlands, which allowed her to learn more about the work of the painters of that geography such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck and, especially, Rubens, who influenced her in terms of the treatment of color.
2. Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Marie Antoinette and her Children.
At the age of 23, when her fame began to grow as a talented portraitist among the French nobility, an area in which she had done several portraits, she was invited to the Palace of Versailles to portray Marie Antoinette (2), the last queen of France, who was so pleased with her work that not only made her the official court painter, something like the documentary maker of the way of life of that social class, but they also became very close friends, because they were the same age and shared tastes.
As a court painter Vigée Lebrun was very well paid and, in addition, her relationship with the queen influenced her to be a member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, in 1783, becoming the most famous and favorite portraitist in Paris licensed to paint. However, her social and professional relationship with the royal family affected her, since on August 4, 1789, the French Revolution, through the Constituent Assembly, abolished the rights and privileges of the nobility and the clergy, and she was at risk of to be identified as a monarchist, to be arrested and executed by guillotine, as happened to the queen in 1793.

From 1789, for 13 years, Vigée Lebrun, divorced and together with her daughter, was in exile in some European countries, Italy, Austria, and Russia, where, using her talent, she managed to be recognized and maintain a worthy lifestyle, thanks to her reputation and income as a portrait artist. Finally, in 1802, she returned to France during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I. Then, in demand by Europe’s elite, she traveled to England, where she painted the portraits of various British notables. When in 1807 she traveled to Switzerland she was made an honorary member of the Société pour l’Avancement des Beaux-Arts in Geneva.

Vigée Lebrun, the most famous French portrait painter between the 18th and 19th centuries, was so prolific that, according to studies, in her entire career she produced close to 900 paintings, mostly portraits and self-portraits, of which 30 were made to Queen Marie Antoinette, whose work can be found in the collections of the most important museums in various countries around the world.
Elena Wright. Serie Niñas. Lo que le gusta.


Written by José Gregorio Noroño,

 Arte Original.

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