Vigée-Le Brun was a French painter, and is recognized as the most famous
woman painter of the eighteenth century. Her style is generally
Rococo and shows interest in the subject of
neoclassical painting. Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was one of
the most famous painters during her time. During her eighty seven-year
life, which spanned from 1755-1842, she created well over 600 pieces of
artwork. In a time period where it was uncommon to be a female artist,
Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun put her best effort forth to
overcome this adversity.
Women painters were not recognized nearly as much as men painters, but Vigée-Lebrun's artwork had its own uniqueness that distinguished her artwork apart from others. She not only had to overcome the adversity of being a woman, but also had to escape the turmoil of the French Revolution. These were among some of the constant controversies she endured throughout her life.
Among the best known paintings by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brunis is her 1789 self-portrait with her daughter. Her style combined rococo grace and delicacy with neoclassical ideals of simplicity and purity. She was born in Paris on 16 April 1755, Marie Élisabeth-Louise Vigée, the daughter of a portraitist and fan painter, Louis Vigée, from whom she received her first instruction. Her mother was a hairdresser. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun was sent to live with relatives in Épernon until the age of 6 when she entered a convent where she remained for five years. Her father died when she was 12 years old. At the age of fifteen, Vigée-Lebrun had demonstrated such skill that she was able to provide support for herself, her widowed mother, and brother.
At the age of twenty her mother pushed her into marrying their landlord, Jean Baptise Pierre Lebrun. He was a prestige art dealer and artist that she believed influenced most of her paintings. Her husband's great uncle was Charles Le Brun, first Director of the French Academy under Louis XIV. Vigée-Le Brun painted portraits of many of the nobility of the day and as her career blossomed, she was invited to the Palace of Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette. She was blessed naturally with an exceptional talent to please people with her art, especially famous people such as Queen Marie Antoinette. She was so talented that in 1778, she was summoned to Versailles to become the official painter to Queen Marie Antoinette. Because they were the same age, they became friends and confidants.
Throughout the next ten years, Vigée-Lebrun painted the Queen more than thirty times. In 1783, she was admitted to the French Academy of Arts, which was a great accomplishment because most women at the time were denied entry into such programs. These were busy days for the young artist, who found her brush in such demand that she could with difficulty execute the commissions which poured in upon her. On Sundays and saints' days Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun allowed herself a little rest, and on those occasions, after hearing high mass, she tells how her mother and stepfather would take her to walk in the beautiful gardens of the Palais Royal, where the fashionable world, arrayed in its best, was wont to disport itself, and where her beauty attracted much attention.
At that time the opera house was close to the palace, and at half past eight on summer evenings, when the performance was over, every one adjourned to the gardens, where singing and instrumental music were continued until the small hours of the morning. Paris was light-hearted and careless in those years preceding the terrible Revolution of 1789, so soon to break forth in all its horrors, but so little suspected then by the frivolous world of fashion.
On the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun left France. Vigée-Lebrun became in danger. Because she was in close ties with the court, she had to flee the country. She fled the country traveling to such places as Vienna, Prague, Dresden, London, and St. Petersburg. While traveling around Europe in exile, she became a member of the Academies of Rome, Florence, Bologna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. At these places, she painted heads of state and other aristocrats to help support herself and her family. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun continued supporting her family for twelve years, and in 1801, she moved back to Paris.
However, because Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun disliked Parisian social life under Napoleon, she left for London where she painted pictures of the court and Lord Byron. She moved yet again to Switzerland, but did not stay long, and returned to her home of Paris, where she painted until her death in 1842.
Vigée-Lebrun was a woman of much wit and charm, and her memoirs, Souvenirs de ma vie (1835-37; Reminiscences of My Life), provide a lively account of her times as well as of her own work. She was one of the most technically fluent portraitists of her era, and her pictures are notable for the freshness, charm, and sensitivity of their presentation. Vigée-Lebrun's independence is one of the main reasons that many people admire her.
Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun is considered a role model, especially to female artists, because of her wide recognition of skills and gained admittance to academies that were closed to her sex. Her plethora of work ranges from history paintings to landscapes. But, the majority of her work were beautifully colored portraits of the most prominent aristocrats and royalty. Her unique and exceptional talent made her one of the most sought out painters of her time. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun was blessed with a natural ability that people adored, even centuries later. During her career, according to her own account, she painted 877 pictures, including 622 portraits and about 200 landscapes.