Memoires of Madame Vigee Lebrun - chapter 4

The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun – Chapter 4: Exile

The same year that I went to Flanders I made a stay of some length at Raincy. The Duke d’Orléans, the father of Philippe Egalité, who was then living there, sent for me to paint his portrait and Mme. de Montesson’s. I cannot recall a certain incident without laughing, though it annoyed me considerably at the time. During Mme. de Montesson’s sittings the old Princess de Conti came to see her one day, and this Princess persisted in addressing me as “Miss.” It is true that it had formerly been the custom for great ladies to behave in this way toward their inferiors, but that sort of court snobbery had gone out with Louis XV.

Another noted country estate, Gennevilliers, belonged to the Count de Vaudreuil, one of the most amiable of men. The Count de Vaudreuil had bought this property largely for His Highness the Count d’Artois, because it included fine hunting-grounds. The purchaser had done much to embellish the place. The house was furnished in the best taste, and without ostentation; there was a small but charming theatre in the house, where my sister-in-law, my brother, M. de Riviére and I often played in comic operas with Mme. Dugazon, and Garat, Cailleau, and Laruette. The Count d’Artois and his company witnessed our performances. The last given in the theatre at Gennevilliers was “The Marriage of Figaro” by the actors of the Comédie-Française. Mlle. Contat was delightful in the part of Suzanne. Dialogue, couplets, and all the rest were aimed against the court, of which a large part was present. This extravagance benefited no one, but Beaumarchais was none the less intoxicated with joy. As there were complaints of the heat, he allowed no time for the windows to be opened, but smashed all the panes with his walking-stick.

The Count de Vaudreuil came to repent of having given his patronage to the “Marriage of Figaro.” In fact, very soon after the performance mentioned Beaumarchais asked for an audience. This being at once granted, he arrived at Versailles at such an early hour that the Count had only just got up. The dramatist then broached a financial project which he had hatched out, and which was to bring in a vast fortune. He concluded by proposing to hand over to M. de Vaudreuil a large sum if he would engage to carry the affair through successfully. The Count listened quite calmly, and when Beaumarchais finished speaking, answered: “M. de Beaumarchais, you could not come at a more favourable time, for I have spent a good night, my digestion is in good order, and I never felt better than I do to-day. If you had made such a proposition to me yesterday I would have thrown you out of the window.”

Another fine country place I visited was Villette. The Marquise de Villette, nicknamed Lovely and Lovable, having invited me, I went to pass a few days there. On one occasion we found a man painting fences in the park. This painter was working with such expedition that M.de Villette complimented him upon it. “Oh!” was the reply, “I’d undertake to cover up in a day all that Rubens painted in his whole life!”

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