Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842)

At the age of 15, the Parisian painter Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun was earning enough money from her portrait painting to support herself, her widowed mother, and her younger brother. For a decade she was Marie Antoinette's favorite painter; European aristocrats, actors, and writers were also her patrons; and she was elected a member of the art academies in 10 cities.

Trained by her father, the portraitist Louis Vigee, she joined Paris's Academy of Saint Luke at 19. Two years later she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun, a painter and art dealer who helped her gain valuable access to the art world. Blessed with an ability to please even the most demanding sitters, Vigee-Lebrun soon came to the attention of the French queen, who in 1783 appointed her a member of Paris's powerful Royal Academy. As one of only four female academicians, Vigee-Lebrun enjoyed a high artistic, social, and political profile-too high, once the French Revolution came, forcing her to flee the country with her nine-year-old daughter.

During the next 12 years the artist was commissioned to create portraits of the most celebrated residents of Rome, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Berlin. After brief, highly successful stays in England and Switzerland, Vigee-Lebrun returned to France for good in 1809 and divided the last 33 years of her life between her Paris residence, where she held glittering salons, and her country house at Louveciennes. Scholars estimate that Vigee-Lebrun produced more than 600 paintings; her memoirs, originally published in 1835-37, have been translated and reprinted numerous times.
[Adapted from National Museum of Women in the Arts]

Books from Alibris: Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

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