Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
February 15 – May 15
Vigée Le Brun, one of the most influential female artists of the 18th century, will be celebrated with a retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art next month.
Born in 1755, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun is regarded as one of the finest portraitists of her era. Not only did the artist achieve success in her native France, she was also widely regarded as one of the most important female artists in Europe at the time.
Vigée Le Brun, daughter of artist Louis Vigée, showed artistic prowess from a young age. She began working independently as a portraitist in her teenage years, and helped to financially support her family after her father passed away when she was 12 years old.
At the age of 21, she married a notable Parisian art dealer named Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, with whom she had one daughter, Julie. Jean Baptiste is said to have been addicted to gambling and prostitutes, but he was an integral influence on Vigée Le Brun’s artistic career.
At the age of 23, Vigée Le Brun received a major commission – to paint the infamous young queen, Marie Antoinette, at her palatial home in Versailles. Vigée Le Brun would go on to paint three full length portraits of the queen, who was the same age as her. The earliest of the three paintings, ‘Marie Antoinette in Court Dress’ dating from 1778 will be displayed as part of the exhibition at The Metropolitan.
With the help of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, Vigée Le Brun was eventually allowed entry into the prestigious Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. This meant she was one of only 14 women to join the society, out of some 550 men during its operation.
As she was a successful young female artist in her own right, Vigée Le Brun was often the subject of contempt from her male counterparts. According to author and art critic, Roderick Conway Morris, the artist routinely became the “object of envy and the target of vitrolic, often misogynistic libels in the anti-establishement press during the years leading up to the French Revolution.”
Indeed, in 1789 the artist was forced to flee France because of her association with the King and Queen. She sought exile with her daughter Julie in Italy. Here, she made her fortune painting the nobility and royalty of Naples, Rome, Vienna and Florence.
In 1805, After 16 years in exile, Vigée Le Brun returned to Paris where she began to write her memoirs. She died in her native city in 1842, at the age of 86.
The upcoming Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France is the first retrospective of her work in modern times, with over 80 pieces on display including paintings and pastel portraits.
Article by Freya Drohan for The Untitled Magazine
Images courtesy of The Metroplitan Museum of Art