Femme of the Week: Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Femme of the Week: Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

September 13, 2008

Femme of the Week: Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

In tradition with Heather and her longgg posts, I present the lovely, Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun! This familiar femme was gifted with the talent for painting from her father, whom was also an artist. Elisabeth Vigee was born in Paris, April 16, 1755. She began drawing at a young age, and was practicing in the halls of the Louvre by her early teen years. She was one of those kids who 'draw everywhere' even on walls *shudder* Some of her inspirations aside from her father were Rubens, Rembrandt Vandyke and Greuze. In her memoirs, she remembered receiving the following advice, "do not follow any particular school. Nature is the best master, If you study it diligently you will never get into any mannerisms." The idea of naturalism followed Vigee as she developed a specific style of her own.

Vigee was beautiful and grew more so as she matured. Many books on her recall the fact that men would come to her for portraits- merely to look her up and down for a few private hours. When she felt uncomfortable she would tell them they need to look away from her because she was trying to paint their eyes. She was already earning a good amount of money from painting when her mother re-married and her stepfather began to collect all her earnings. She did not care for the man at all and he apparently even wore her own fathers clothes.

Possibly in an effort to leave her home situation, Vigee did not refuse the proposal of Monsieur Le Brun. Monsieur Le Brun owned a valuable art collection and Vigee was allowed to copy works from it. He new her talent would only develop and was quick to marry her. She soon found after becoming his wife that her husband was just as her step father had been with money. Her money. She tried to increase her income by setting up a 'school' where she taught a painting class for a few hours a day. She was just in her twenties and after a few courses felt that she was 'too lively to be a teacher.' She was in fact too busy.

Vigee-Le Brun had many sittings per month and commissions constantly came in. She had a daughter in 1779 and shortly after she painted a portrait of Marie Antoinette. Then another. And another! At first she was very timid and quiet when Marie was around. At one sitting she fumbled and dropped all her brushes on the ground. As she turned red, Marie jumped up to help her pick them up. Their friendship grew after this episode because Vigee-Le Brun was much more comfortable with Marie. The two would sometimes sing duets during sittings, and Vigee-Le Brun had confessed that the Queen was not always in tune.

Vigee-Le Brun also had the chance to meet Louis XVI. Louis remarked on her talent and, blushing, said "I do not understand much about painting, but you have made me love it."

One of my favorite moments of Vigee-Le Brun's life and career as a painter was when she was commissioned to do several paintings of Madame du Barry. Vigee had the chance to enter Mdm du Barry's salon and in front of a crackling fire Mdm du Barry told her stories and gossip of the court of Louis XV.

When the revolution dawned she left immediately for her safety and refused to hear any news on France. She settled in St. Petersburg. After the Revolution had ended she returned to Paris and was warmly welcomed. She visited her remaining friends, and at a concert the audience, "turned and applauded her. She was much touched, and answered with tears." Vigee-Le Brun died in Paris, May 29, 1842.


  1. Thanks for this post, I really should know more about her than I actually do. I would love to get my hands on the biography of her that The Frick carries.

  2. You should get it now that you have a discount there! :o)
    and its an excuse to go wear a pretty dress and get lost and day-dreamy and twirling around in the gorgeous halls and rooms there....

  3. Well I will be in NYC tomorrow so maybe....NO I can't! I've spent way too much lately. However I could pick a copy up for you ;)

  4. Believe it or not. I just found a painting by Vigee-Le Brun of Marie Antoinette on Ebay.

    The seller is claiming it to be real.

    Now if only I had $20,000

  5. why would they sell that!!! I am not saying that it is authentic or not but if I had one it would never grace the pages of eBay! Her works should at least be brought to Christies!