The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun – Chapter 6: Turin and Vienna

Memoires of Madame Vigee Lebrun - chapter 6

Meanwhile, it being my desire to see France again, I reached Turin with this end in view. The two aunts of Louis XVI. had been kind enough to give me letters to Clotilda, Queen of Sardinia, their niece. They sent word that they very much wished to have a portrait done by me, and consequently, as soon as I was settled, I presented myself before Her Majesty. She received me very well after reading the letters of Princess Adelaide and Princess Victoria. She told me that she regretted having to refuse her aunts, but that, having renounced the world altogether, she must decline being painted. What I saw indeed seemed quite in accord with her statement and her resolve. The Queen of Sardinia had her hair cut short and wore on her head a little cap, which, like the rest of her garb, was the simplest conceivable. Her leanness struck me particularly, as I had seen her when she was very young, before her marriage, when her stoutness was so pronounced that she was called “Fat Milady” in France. Be it that this change was caused by too austere religious practices, or by the sufferings which the misfortunes of her family had made her undergo, the fact was that she had altered beyond recognition. The King joined her in the room where she received me. He was likewise so pale and thin that it was painful to look at them together.

I lost no time in going to see Madame, the wife of Louis XVIII. She not only accorded me a warm welcome, but arranged picturesque drives for me in the neighbourhood of Turin, which I took with her lady-in-waiting, Mme. de Gourbillon, and her son. Said surroundings are very beautiful, but our first expedition was not very auspicious. We set out in the heat of the day to visit a monastery situated high up on a mountain. As the mountain was very steep, we were obliged to get out of the carriage when we had gone half way and then climb on foot. I remember passing a spring of the clearest water, whose drops sparkled like diamonds, and which peasants declared to be a cure for sundry diseases. After climbing so long that we were exhausted, we at length arrived at the monastery dying with heat and hunger. The table was already laid for the monks and for travellers, which filled us with joy, since it may be imagined how impatient we were for dinner. As there was some delay, we thought that something special was being done for us, seeing that Madame had recommended us to the monks in a letter she had given us addressed to them. At last a dish of frogs’ breasts was served, which I took for a chicken stew. But as soon as I tasted it I found it impossible to eat another morsel, hungry as I was. Then three other dishes were brought on, boiled, fried and grilled, and I set great hopes on each in turn. Alas! they were only frogs again! So we ate nothing but dry bread, and drank water, these monks never drinking nor offering wine. My heart’s desire was then an omelet – but there were no eggs in the house.

After my visit to the monastery I met Porporati, who wanted me to live with him. He proposed occupying a farm he owned two miles from Turin, where he had some plain but comfortable rooms. I gladly accepted this offer, as I hated living in town, and at once went to establish myself with my daughter and her governess in this retreat. The farm stood in the open country, surrounded with fields, and little streams edged by trees high enough to form delightful bowers. From morning till night I took rapturous walks in these enchanting solitudes. My child enjoyed the pure air as much as I did the quiet, peaceful life that we led. Alas! it was in this peaceful place, while I was in such a happy state of mind, that I was struck a most cruel blow. The cart which brought our letters having come one evening, the carter handed me one from my friend M. de Rivière, my sister-in-law’s brother, who apprised me of the dreadful events of the 10th of August and supplied me with some horrible details. I was quite overcome, and made up my mind to go back to Turin immediately.

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Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (and workshop) – Portrait Anne Catherine Le Preudhomme de Chatenoy Comtesse der Verdun, 1780. In HD!

Click on the image to see Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun’s Portrait Anne Catherine Le Preudhomme de Chatenoy Comtesse der Verdun in High Resolution!

Elisabeth_Vigée-Lebrun_(and_workshop)_Portrait_Anne_Catherine_Le_Preudhomme_de_Chatenoy_Comtesse_der_Verdun
Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (and workshop) – Portrait Anne Catherine Le Preudhomme de Chatenoy Comtesse der Verdun, 1780.

The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun – Chapter 5: Neapolitan days

Memoires of Madame Vigee Lebrun - chapter 5

I had been in Rome eight months or thereabouts, when, observing that all foreigners were leaving for Naples, I was seized with a great desire to go there likewise. I confided my plan to the Cardinal de Bernis, who, while approving, advised me not to go alone. He spoke to me of a M. Duvivier, the husband of Voltaire’s niece, Mme. Denis, who proposed to make the journey, and who would be charmed with my company. M. Duvivier came to me, repeating everything that the Cardinal had said, and promising to take care of my daughter and myself. He added, thus tempting me the more, that he had in his carriage a sort of stove, for cooking fowl, which would be very useful to us, seeing how bad the fare was in the best inns of Terracina. All his offers suited me to a marvel, and so I started with this gentleman. His coach was very large; my daughter and her governess sat in front, and there was another seat in the middle. A huge man-servant sat on it in front of me in such a way that his large back touched me and I had to hold my nose. I am not in the habit of talking while travelling, so that conversation between us was restricted to the exchange of a few phrases. But as we were crossing the Pontine marshes, I noticed on the edge of a canal a shepheard whose flock was passing into a meadow all studded with flowers, and beyond which the sear and Cape Circe were visible. “What a charming pictue!” said I to my travelling companion. “This shepherd, these sheep, the meadow, the sea!” “Those sheep are filthy,” he answered; “you ought to see them in England.” Farther along on the Terracina road, at the place where you cross a small river in a boat, I saw at my left the line of the apennines crowned with magnificent clouds, which the setting sun illumined. I was unable to refrain from expressing my admiration aloud. “Those clouds mean that we shall have rain to-morrow,” said my optimistic friend.

We reached Naples at about three or four o’clock. I cannot describe the impression I received upon entering the town. That burning sun, that stretch of sea, those islands seen in the distance, that Vesuvius with a great column of smoke ascending from it, and the very population so animated and so noisy, who differ so much from the Roman that one might suppose they were a thousand miles apart.

I had engaged a house at Chiaja on the edge of the sea. Opposite me I had the island of Capri, and this situation delighted me. Hardly had I arrived when Count Skavronska, the Russian Ambassador at Naples, whose house was next to mine, sent one of his runners to find out how I was, and at the same time had a very choice dinner brought me. I was the more grateful for this kind of attention, as I must have died of hunger before there would have been time to get my kitchen ready. The same evening I went to thank the Count, and thus became acquainted with his charming wife.

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