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Une Artiste Most Royal...


Now that the dancing has come to an end at the Annual Versailles Masked Ball, and we've strolled through time in Versailles and Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI (not to mention Queen Marie Antoinette), let's take a P'Niche peek at Marie Antoinette's personal portrait artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun...


Madame Le Brun was worn on April 16, 1755 in Paris (under the reign of King Louis XV).

Her life is simply too extraordinary to even try to portray with enough detail in one P'Niche post, but suffice it to say, we hope these "greatest hits" of her story inspire you to learn more and to seek out her exceptional art works.

Far from noble birth, her mother (Jeanne) was a hairdresser from a lowly peasant background. Her father (Louis Vigée) was also a portrait painter and passed on to her many skills, as well as a confidence, that even if a woman, she possessed the skill and eye to make something of herself, artistically. He sadly passed when Élisabeth was just 12 years old.


By the age of 15, young Élisabeth was able to support herself, her widowed mother and younger brother with her skill and already a petit, but wealthy, portfolio of clients wishing for her portraits and magnificent work.

At the age of 19, she had garnered so much recognition that she was granted admission to l'Académie de St Luc.

Keep in mind the times and noted that she was one of very few women welcomed to class. She was one of only four women permitted access. At the age of 20, she was waiting the nobility the royal court at Versailles.

Her appearance at court certainly opened many doors to her.


Two years after her arrival at court, Élisabeth was wed to Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun. if you feel like you have heard that name before, you are right.

Jean-Baptiste was the son of Pierre Le Brun, a great painter in his own right, but also the great nephew of Charles Le Bruno who we already know decorated much of the Versailles palace and surroundings. Jean-Baptiste was also a painter, but dabbled more so in the art dealings which gained Élisabeth an unparalleled access to both the aristocratic and artistic worlds.

In 1780, daughter Julie (nicknamed "Brunette") was born. Élisabeth began to show her works at their family home in Paris (l'Hôtel de Lubert), offering not only exposure, but a great book of contacts.


In 1778, Vigée Le Brun was invited to paint Queen Marie Antoinette - quite the honor.

Aside from the honor of the painting, Élisabeth and Marie Antoinette became dear friends, with the queen being one of Le Brun's strongest allies and supporters.

In fact, it was through close ties to the queen that Vigée Le Brun was granted membership to the very prestigious Académie Royale.

It is worth noting that the Académie was a predominantly male driven populous - only 15 women were granted access between 1648 and 1793! Vigée and her works were creating quite the stir.


Aside from one scandal where she painted herself and her daughter with an open mouthed smile (which was considered counterintuitive to traditional painting conventions dating back to ancient times), Vigée Le Brun's larger scandal came when she painted and displayed a portrait of the queen in a white cotton chemise and a white straw hat.

While the characterization ad the royal was much admired, the pastoral costume (seen as near underwear) was heavily criticized. In fact, the outcry became so loud that the work was removed from the exhibition and replaced with the quickly rendered queen wearing a white muslin dress.

Everyone's a critic!


We've now ended up at the French Revolution, when Vigée Le Brun was under heavy scrutiny for her close ties and association with the Queen.

After a series of near break ins, threats, etc. a pair of kind National Guardsmen advised Vigée, her daughter and her governess to skip town with the passports asap, but to take a stage coach in stead of a carriage to avoid attention.


Their first stop was Italy, where she remained from 1789-1792. During her time, she continued her painting career.

Most famously, in Naples, she painted this gem - Emma, Lady Hamilton as Ariadne. it currently lives in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

She was also to visit many cathedrals, museums, galleries, ruins, etc. which no doubt inspired and enhanced her already complex artworks.


In 1792, the Le Brun family moved over to Austria (and remained there through 1795).

All the while, she received constant engagements and requests.

One of the more famous works of this time period is this angelic and goddess like Princess Karoline of Liechtenstein, painted in 1793. Liechtenstein Museum

Moving from rococo to e neoclassic type of work, you can see this image might harken to thoughts of the Roman matron Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi.

This stunner currently lives at the Liechtenstein Museum and if you ever find yourself over that way (as one does), it is definitely worth taking the time to visit.


Next up, their travels took them to Russia from 1795-1801, when Vigée Le Bun was welcomed by the nobility and constantly commissioned to paint many of the displayed royals as well as Russian aristocrats.

That said, P'Niche finds the most lovely work to come out of Russia to be that of her daughter Julie painted as Flora. Flora is of course, the goddess of flowers, who gives birth to Spring. Here, Julie is left exposed to the whims of the God of Wind, Zephr.

This painting currently is displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Florida.


In 1801, the Le Brun clan ventured off to Prussia (present day Germany).

During this brief stay, Le Brun was invited to paint Louise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Prussia.

This stunning pastel was shown in the traveling Vigée Le Brun exhibit in 2015, but I am no certain where it "lives" today. Any artistic and knowledgeable P'Nicher know and wish to share?

After her time in Prussia, Vigée was able to return to her beloved Paris in 1802, her name having been removed, at last, from the list of counter-revolutionary émigrés.


Additional travels took Vigée Le Brun over to England as well as Switzerland before returning to France and spending the majority of her later years in Louveciennes. This French commune is located in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region in north central France.

In 1805, she had remarked that her "only true happiness has been in painting," and she left behind 660 portraits and 200 landscapes. How lucky we are to be able to view her many great works!

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun has a fascinating life and has had her own memoirs published, but also been the muse of several historical fiction writers.

One of the most recommended is Rebecca Glenn's "Becoming Lisette - The Queen's Painter, Book I" and follows her life from convent school to the royal court of Versailles and beyond.

We are exited to be currently reading this in our Parisian Page Turners book club. Our discussion on this engaging novel is set for May 25th, 2024. We hope you feel inspired to come read with us!

If not interested in a read, there is also a great drama on Amazon Prime called "The Fabulous Life of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun"

Definitely worth the watch!

How lucky we are that Vigée Le Brun's works are spread over the world.

When in Paris, you should head to:

You could of course head to Versailles for those great Marie Antoinette works.

Not in Paris? No worries! Head to:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY

Toledo Museum of Art

Toledo, OH

National Gallery of Art

Washington, DC


In addition, works can be found at:

Liechtenstein Museum

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Kansas City, MO J. Paul Getty Museum

Los Angeles, CA Needless to say, this is but a sampling of some of the various museums, galleries, and auction houses where you might be able to appreciate some of Le Brun's fine works.

I don't know about you, but P'Niche is most certainly inspired to find more!

What do you think ,P'Nicher? Are you inspired by the works of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun? If not, who is your favorite artist? Let us in the comments below et à bientôt!


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2 comentários

Susan Maxheim Carter
Susan Maxheim Carter
18 de abr.

Very interesting - thanks for all the information as I had heard of her but knew very little until now. I do like her work but am a huge fan of Monet and Caillebotte.


Debra Borchert
Debra Borchert
17 de abr.

Merci again, for a little known fact: open mouthed smiles were not in fashion! And I thought it was Josephine who started the trend due to her bad teeth. Wonderful highlights. Thank you!

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