Famous 18th-century portraitist gets her due in sumptuous Ottawa exhibit

Considered one of the most important female artists of all time, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, a savvy, beautiful and smart woman who carved out a career in a man’s world, is celebrated in a summer-long exhibit of 90 works from around the world at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, to Sept. 11. Paintings by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.

A husband who gambled away a fortune, a beloved daughter who died too soon, a painter who had the ear of the queen, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s life is the stuff of an HBO series.

Her work, meanwhile, is on view in a stunning show at the National Gallery of Canada to Sept. 11 where 90 luminous portraits bring back a society long vanished and thrill viewers with the artist’s mastery at light, colour and exquisite detail.

Le Brun was a shrewd, self-made businesswoman in 18th-century France when few women had professional careers. By the time she was a teen she had clients coming to her door, at the age of 23 she first painted Queen Marie Antoinette, her contemporary, and by 28 she was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, rare for women.

One of the keys to her success was her ability to “soften” any facial imperfections in her wealthy and noble clients, says exhibit co-curator Paul Lang, deputy director and chief curator at the National Gallery of Canada. “She did a kind of plastic surgery for Marie Antoinette.”

“You’ll see that Marie Antoinette was not a beautiful woman. She had a very heavy chin typical for a Hapsburg.”

However, in Le Brun’s portraits “the people can still recognize the queen but it’s just softened.”

Élisabeth Louise Vigée LeBrun Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons, c. 1782. Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 54 cm Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée LeBrun, Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons, c. 1782. Oil on canvas, 64.8 x 54 cm Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Considered the most important female painter of her day, Le Brun was the daughter of a portraitist and expert in pastel. She was passionate about painting from a very early age.

“That passion has never waned,” she wrote as an elderly woman in 1825 in her memoir, Souvenirs. “I believe, in fact, it has only grown with time.

“It is, moreover, to that divine passion that I owe not only my fortune but also my happiness, since in my youth — as at the present time — it established relations between me and all the most amiable and distinguished men and women in Europe.”

Le Brun’s father gave his daughter her first drawing lessons and said, “You will be a painter, my child, or no one will.”

When he died from choking on a fish bone, he left his 12-year-old daughter bereft. Le Brun’s mother thought it would help her daughter if she studied painting seriously. She enrolled her at a female-run drawing academy, gave her a room as an atelier and took her to the city’s most important galleries.

Le Brun taught herself by copying historical and contemporary paintings and by painting from models, initially family members.

She is such a great painter, says Lang, because as well as being a technical virtuoso, she synthesized the past and the present in her art.

“She’s self-trained but is able to look at Italian art mainly Raphael and Domenichino, but she’s also able to look at British art and looking at Reynolds and bringing it all together in a magical way for an intimacy and a monumental composition.

“She was able to renew her vocabulary in Italy opening to landscape and remaining always faithful to Rubens and Van Dyck and the Flemish art of the 17th century.”

After a trip to Flanders to see Rubens’ work she used wood panels for her easel paintings and transparent glazes “over warm, light-toned preparations to suggest the effect of blood pulsing beneath the surface of the skin,” writes co-curator and Le Brun expert Joseph Baillio.

Peace Bringing Back Abundance, 1780, the history painting she submitted for admission to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Oil on canvas, 102 x 133 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Peintures

After Le Brun’s mother remarried a goldsmith, a nasty man who took the artist’s earnings, the family moved to a town house occupied by art dealer and trained artist Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun. He lent the beautiful young artist works from his collection to copy and asked for her hand in marriage.

“I was far from wishing to become his wife, though he was very well built and had a pleasant face,” Le Brun writes in Souvenirs. “I was then twenty years old, and was living without anxiety as to the future, since I was already earning a deal of money, so that I felt no manner of inclination for matrimony.”

On her mother’s urging, she accepted, mainly to escape her stepfather. “So little, however, did I feel inclined to sacrifice my liberty that, even on my way to church, I kept saying to myself, ‘Shall I say yes, or shall I say no?’ ”

The one joy of her union — though LeBrun had to be dragged from her studio to take the time to give birth — was her daughter Julie. She adored the child, nicknamed Brunette, and always painted children with affection, sensitivity and the naturalness that was championed by Rousseau and that she brought to all her subjects.

A celebrity herself and often a subject for malicious, sexist gossip and condescending art criticism, she was known for her lively salons and was very much a member of the society she painted and a society she never disavowed.

On the night of Oct. 6, 1789, as mobs surged into Versailles to drag the royal family to Paris, Le Brun grabbed her daughter and fled revolutionary France, initially for Rome. She had only 20 francs thanks to her husband, “… although I had earned more than a million. He had squandered it all.”

Marie Antoinette and Her Children, 1787, Le Brun's most important commission and intended to restore the queen's reputation, which it did not. Oil on canvas, 275 x 216.5 cm. Musee National des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon, France (MV 4520). © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.
Marie Antoinette and Her Children, 1787, Le Brun’s most important commission and intended to restore the queen’s reputation, which it did not. Oil on canvas, 275 x 216.5 cm. Musee National des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon, France (MV 4520). © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

She made her way to Europe’s capitals, where her reputation and profits grew, and spent six years in St. Petersburg, painting members of the Russian imperial family and living in an apartment overlooking the Winter Palace.

Sadly, this is where her daughter met her sad fate when she fell for a Russian theatre secretary, Guitain Nigris, whom Le Brun described as a “man without talents, without fortune, without a name.”

Julie, seen in three portraits in this exhibit from ages six to 18, married against her mother’s wishes. The marriage turned sour immediately and only lasted eight years. Mother and daughter fell out over money and stopped speaking.

Julie contracted syphilis and died destitute in Paris at the age of 39 in 1819 when Le Brun was back in Paris.

The artist describes the “cruel grief” she experienced.

“When, going to see her the last day, my eyes fell upon that dreadfully sunken face, I fainted away. My old friend Mme. de Noisville rescued me from that bed of sorrow; she supported me, for my legs would not carry me, and took me home. The next day I was childless! Mme. de Verdun came with the news, and vainly tried to soften my despair. All the wrong-doing of the poor little one vanished — I saw her again, I still see her, in the days of her childhood. Alas! she was so young! Why did she not survive me.”

After Le Brun died in Paris in 1842 at the age of 87, she was underrated and didn’t influence many other artists. “She couldn’t have,” says Lang, “because after that, people were expecting something else. It’s the last firework of a society which disappeared with the ancien regime.”

Le Brun was also dismissed because of a prejudice against female artists, which still exists today, says Lang, and against self-trained artists. She painted mainly portraits, another strike against her — when the Academie valued history painting and landscape — and in the 1940s and 1950s feminists like Simone de Beauvoir denigrated women artists who were “the so-called upper class artists,” says Lang.

“Le Brun sought out the powerful and the rich and the famous. The sitters were more important than the painting.”

The 90 paintings on loan from institutions such as the Louvre, the Château de Versailles and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg include her massive, official family portrait of Marie Antoinette and her family, never before exhibited outside Paris, self-portraits up until the age of 55 and oodles of beauties of the ancien regime.

Their pristine milky complexions, red cheeks, heart-shaped faces, sensuous lips and opulent dresses indicate none of the politics of the time or the fate awaiting Louis XVI’s court.

These, as well as Le Brun’s many Russian portraits, are gorgeous in the artist’s use of light and shadow with many faces shadowed by elaborate hats, in her saturated colours and in her astonishingly exquisite detail in lace, ribbons, plumes of white feathers, lavish fabrics, opalescent pearls and ubiquitous roses, a symbol for grace and femininity as well as Marie Antoinette’s favourite flower.

Le Brun renewed the official portrait genre, says Lang, by “bringing an ambiguity between the official and private portrait.” He cites her intimate, three-quarter portrait of a gently smiling Charles Alexandre de Calonne, controller general of finances, where white powder is visible on his shoulder. “You never see that in an official portrait.”

Le Brun was able to capture fleeting emotional states and her subjects often smile directly at the viewer, which was frowned upon.

“She is really also a colourist,” says Lang, noting Le Brun’s 1785 painting of the baronne de Crussol de Florensac.

This beautiful young woman, whose head turns as she is caught reading the score of a Gluck opera, sits on a green Louis XV bench and wears a lush red silk dress trimmed in black velvet and fur. “The red and green, complementary colours, it’s like what Monet would do 60-70 years later. She had this sense of colour and it’s very daring, sometimes it’s at the edge of what works — incredible.”

The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Two Sons, 1787, oil on canvas, 123.4 x 155.9 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Lang’s favourite work is a 1787 group portrait of the Marquise de Rouge, wearing a shimmering blue-bronze dress with a giant gold ribbon, with her two sons and her close friend the Marquise de Pezay. Both women, who were widows, were regulars at Le Brun’s pre-revolution musical soirees and are painted with great intimacy against a lush landscape.

“It’s the only group portrait and it’s the first time she uses a landscape before exile. You see all her qualities. She is looking at Domenichino, at Rubens, at Reynolds, and it’s for me an allegory of friendship and maternal love.”

In the last years of her life, Le Brun worked on her memoirs and painted less while keeping up with entertaining. Before she died she saw the invention of the daguerreotype as spelling the end to painted portraiture.

The frozen black and white stares from the earliest stages of photography are lifeless compared to her vital art, that still speaks to us in its beauty and painterly skill albeit with an eerie hindsight, over 200 years later.

IF YOU GO: Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des musée nationaux–Grand Palais, Paris, has already been a hit in Paris and New York and is at its only Canadian venue and last tour stop. It runs to Sept. 11 at the National Gallery of Canada. Tickets range from $7 for youth to $16 regular with children 11 and under admitted free.

It includes a dress-up area with hats and wigs, a great film on the artist at the exhibit’s end, souvenir items in the regular gallery gift shop and the complementary exhibit, The White Dress: Masterpiece in Focus, to Sept. 25, based on Le Brun’s controversial portrait of Marie Antoinette in a chemise instead of court dress, and about the evolution of the chemise and other changes in fashion.

Also on exhibit at the National are Joseph Beuys, of 15 sculptures and drawings by the famous conceptual artist who visited the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the 1970s, to Nov. 27, and Picasso: Man and Beast, The Vollard Suite of Prints, to Sept. 6.

by Elissa Bernard



Vigée Le Brun exhibit to bring faces of French aristocracy to Ottawa

‘She’s probably the most important woman artist France ever produced,’ says curator.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Woman Artist in Revolutionary France opens on Feb. 15 in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CBC)
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Woman Artist in Revolutionary France opens on Feb. 15 in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CBC)

She was the favourite painter of Marie-Antoinette, and other members of the French royal court, capturing the last vestiges of a gilded age before the revolution.

Once the most celebrated woman artist in Europe in her time, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s reputation gradually faded from the history of art.

A major traveling retrospective is hoping to change that.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Woman Artist in Revolutionary France was originally mounted in the Grande Palais in Paris — now it is set to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on Monday, Feb. 15.

Exhibit traveling to Ottawa in June

A self-portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842). ( Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence (1905))
A self-portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842). ( Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence (1905))

Following that, it will move to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in June. Many of the paintings have never left France before.

“She got short shrift in the great histories of 18th century painting,” said Joseph Baillio, curator of the exhibition, “Great women artists were not recognized for what they were.”

Baillio was speaking at the media preview for the exhibition in New York.

“She is probably the most important woman artist that France ever produced. She’s not a well known painter because most of her pictures were in private collections. She was only rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Baillio.

“A painter like Renoir would not have known of her, but he would have loved her,” he said.

‘An extraordinary technician… a magnificent colourist’

Vigée Le Brun painted more than 600 portraits, lush, warmly coloured, intimate reflections of European aristocracy.

She fled France for Italy during the French Revolution, where she continued to capture the faces of nobility.

Baillio says Ottawa art lovers are in for a treat.

“This show is going to show her at her finest. You get some really splendid examples and when they are in perfect condition you can see what an extraordinary technician she was….

“[She was] also the greatest colourist with [French painter Jean-Honoré] Fragonard at the end of the 18th century. She was a magnificent colourist.”

The retrospective of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) runs at the National Gallery of Canada from June 10, 2016 to Sept. 11, 2016.

by Sandra Abma

source: CBC News




En 1783, Vigée-Lebrun peint un portrait de Marie-Antoinette beaucoup plus simple, sans doute conforme aux tenues que la jeune souveraine privilégiait à Trianon, libérée de l’étiquette. Marie-Antoinette apparaît en gaulle ! Comprenez qu’elle est vêtue d’une robe de mousseline, simple et légère comme une chemise. La tenue est complétée par un chapeau de paille et la jeune femme semble saisie sur le vif, presque à son insu, composant un bouquet de roses ! Scandale lorsque la toile est exposée ! On s’écrie qu’une femme de chambre ne serait pas habillée autrement. Scandale certes, mais accompagné d’un grand succès car chacun veut avoir son portrait par Vigée Lebrun dont les finances deviennent florissantes.

D’après Vigée Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, 1783, huile sur toile (93 x 73 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington

Toujours est-il que le tableau est retiré et qu’un nouveau portrait est exécuté. La reine choisit cette fois une robe de soie et de dentelle, elle est parée de ses perles et munie d’un chapeau décent !

Ces deux dernières toiles sont donc deux représentations opposées de la reine, jeune femme avide de liberté ou princesse majestueuse, mais remarquez leur ressemblance : la composition est la même : mêmes positions du corps, du visage, du bras. Et même petit bouquet de roses que la reine est en train de nouer du même ruban. Malgré ces ressemblances, la portée des deux portraits est bien différente et le public et la cour sont soulagés de retrouver une souveraine royale et conforme à l’étiquette. Ouf, la morale est sauve et la monarchie garde la tête sur les épaules, au moins pour quelques années encore …

Vigée Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette à la rose, 1783, huile sur toile (113 x 87 cm), château de Versailles
Vigée Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette à la rose, 1783, huile sur toile (113 x 87 cm), château de Versailles

Source: Les humeurs de Sophie


French Revolutionary Artist Vigee Le Brun Reigns Supreme at the Met


Though she was Marie Antoinette’s favorite portrait painter, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842) was not a queen herself.  She was, however, an extraordinarily gifted artist.  Beautiful, witty, unassuming and largely self-taught, she is arguably the finest of 18th century French portrait painters and to her credit—through a long and illustrious career—she kept her head.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibit, Vigee Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France, fast on the heels of its showing at the Grand Palais in Paris, is long overdue.  Katherine Baetjer, Curator in the Department of European Paintings, remarked to Roberta Smith in the New York Times’ own coverage, that it was the first time in her 40 years in the Department that a monographic exhibition has been held for a woman artist.  Better late than never, this first time retrospective of 79 portraits and one landscape will leave little doubt that the viewer is in the presence of true genius.

Vigee was the daughter of an accomplished pastel portraitist, who helped to guide her precocious talents.  It was a lucky stroke, for when he died when she was only 12 years of age, she was quick to contribute to the family’s support.  Upon first entering the exhibit, a trio of family portraits reveals a remarkable sensitivity toward her sitter.  The portrait of her mother shows a trusting, genteel fatigue, while the brother is confident, totally at ease with his school book and tri-cornered hat.  Even her stepfather, an ambitious playwright whom she suspected of hoarding her income, exhibits a benignly relaxed countenance.  By 19, she was exhibiting publicly and two years later, married to Jean Baptiste  Pierre Le Brun, the principal art dealer in 18th century Paris.  It’s interesting to note the dealer’s self-portrait included here, proudly posed with an artist’s palette, appearing every bit the artistic dandy of his day.


Though the marriage was beneficial to both, producing one daughter, Vigee Le Brun was denied access to the prestigious Academie royale due to her husband’s profession as a dealer.  Such association with the trade was strictly prohibited.  It was only through the intervention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI that the painter was allowed access, and a large, symbolic canvas, Peace Bringing Back Abundance, was her reception piece in the 1783 salon.  It’s an eye-catching example of her mastery of the female form, the figure of  abundance greets the viewer with exposed breast and  a cornucopia of fruit placed nearby.  But the figure of Peace hovering overhead with a dramatic sweep of emerald green cape gives a feeling of high drama to the whole composition.

Not surprisingly, some of the biggest crowd-pleasers are the three life-size portraits of Marie Antoinette.  The first to greet visitors, Marie Antoinette in Court Dress, was the result of the Queen’s summoning of the young 23-year-old artist to Versailles.  It was specifically commissioned for the queen’s mother, Empress Marie Theresa of Austria who wanted to see her daughter in royal splendor. The portrait is predictably grand, with a perfect mastery of attitude and dress in every stroke.  In all of the portraits, the subject exhibits the Hapsburg trait of a long narrow face and full lower lip, yet the painter was impressed with the queen’s carriage and said that “she walked better than any other woman in France.”

More intriguing are the paired portraits of the queen shown together for the first time—one in a simple pastoral setting wearing a white muslin frock and the other a corseted formal portrait, more befitting her role.  It’s hard to imagine today the scandal and uproar the informal portrait created—the pose is practically identical—but it was soon removed from display. (A trip to Versailles for any visitor curious about daily life for the royal inhabitants must include a train ride to Le Petit Trianon, the farm created for the queen in her role as shepherdess.)


One of Vigee Le Brun’s favorite poses for her aristocratic sitters was an over-the-shoulder glance at the viewer, a pose ideal for projecting a moment frozen in time.  One such example is the fetching Baronne de Crussol Florensac (1785) interrupted in her studies of a musical score.  It’s easy to imagine in a great many of these portraits that painter and subject were in the throes of sharing an intimate and joyful afternoon together.  Was it the artist’s intent or the ebullient nature of her subject?  She once admitted that “I painted them as dreamers and nonchalantly intent.”

The only portrait that stands out in obvious contrast is one depicting the writer Madame de Stael. Painted in the guise of Corinne, one of her more famous literary creations, it’s perhaps the only singularly unflattering portrait in the exhibit—an open mouthed, toothy impression, looking heavenward with lyre in hand, it’s an effectively eye-catching rendering but one rejected by the author.

Vigee Le Burn also exhibited a talent for self-portraiture not easy to achieve, even for the most adept.  My favorite on display, Self Portrait with Cerise Ribbons (1782) is a beautiful study of a young woman, confident in her grace and intelligence, yet exhibiting an unaffected openness.  She has chosen the contrasts of red and black hues, the black hat setting off the luminous face, the drop earring a perfect point of focus.


She could be just as adept in her portrayal of children and not to be missed is a charming portrait of her daughter Julie.  The subject is in profile, holding an angled mirror with her reflection seen in full-face.  It’s not only a totally captivating portrait but one that shows the great love and trust she must have shared with the child.

A major showstopper is surely Marie Antoinette and her Children (1787).  It’s a grand majestic painting, with the queen surrounded by her brood in a powerful, triangular composition.  Never one to forego a helpful suggestion, the painter had sought out Jacques Louis David’s advice at the outset.  The image of the young Dauphin pointing to an empty crib in the background is bittersweet, perhaps referring to the youngest offspring who had died at 11 months.

Such a close association with the queen forced Vigee Le Brun in 1789 to flee France.  While violence raged in her home country, she was quickly embraced by those who could afford her talents.  Traveling to Italy with daughter Julie, she was elected to membership in the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.  While she often worked independently, she was commissioned by the queen of Naples whose daughter Maria Louisa is on view.  Napoleon’s sister Caroline was a sitter as were several of the royalty in Vienna.  One of her most successful sojourns was the six years she spent in Russia where the family of Catherine the Great was only too happy to take advantage of her artistry.

The glitter and glamour of Russian society was obviously to her liking.  A portrait of the Countess Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina dramatically clutching her red stole against the cold, has an unmistakable boldness.  Likewise, a portrait of the young Tolstoy, draped in a rich crimson cape against a bare background, benefits from the singular focus on its subject.  The male subject hardly received short-shrift from the painter and a vibrant and powerful portrait of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, formerly King of Poland, attests to this fact.

There are additional delights in this sumptuous exhibit worth mentioning.  The only landscape,  The Festival of the Shepherds at Unspunnese, was painted near Interlaken, Switzerland and a careful look will reveal the artist with her sketchbook in the foreground.  A series of pastels includes a sketchy self-portrait in broad brimmed hat and curls reminiscent of Boticelli’s mythical beauties.

Vigee Le Brun would enjoy 40 more productive years upon her return to France, giving a detailed account of art and life in post-revolutionary Europe in her journals.  If international recognition for this major artist has been slow in arriving, the Met’s impeccable exhibit is well worth the wait.  The Musee National des Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Musee du Louvre and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II are also responsible in no small measure for its success.

The exhibition is on view through May 15, 2016.

by Sandra Bertrand

Source: Highbrow Magazine


The Met’s Enigmatic Red Shawl, Inspired by Revolutionary France Painter Vigée Le Brun

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Countess Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina, Ca. 1797-1800 Photo: The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Countess Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina, Ca. 1797-1800 Photo: The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was a pretty tough chick.  This gifted portraitist, born in 1755, showed enormous early talent as a painter, but it was hard (then as now!) for young women like her to be taken seriously. She married Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, an art dealer who by reports was a bit of a sleazy gambler, in 1776, and this didn’t exactly hurt her career.

Le Brun is being honored with a major exhibition that opened today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and though the show is subtitled “Woman Artist in Revolutionary France,” she in fact hightailed it into exile as soon as things got hot.

And could you blame her? Before she fled the scene, Le Brun made her reputation specializing in painting the sorts of aristocratic types who liked to pose as peasant girls and grape gatherers. Her favorite subject was none other than Marie Antoinette, whom she rendered variously in a chemise dress, with a rose, wearing a blue velvet frock, helping pick up Le Brun’s paintbrushes (!), and with her kids in an enormous 108 1⁄4-by-85 1⁄4-inch oil-on-canvas that is maybe some kind of masterwork.

Was it any surprise that when the people of Paris took to the streets there were targets on Le Brun’s subjects’ backs, causing the artist to depart, first to Italy and then to Russia and Austria, before finally making it back to Paris in greatly reduced circumstances?

For some reason lost in the mists of time, Le Brun kept a red shawl in her studio and draped it around a variety of her subjects. It shows up as a sash in a self-portrait; enhancing the gowns of Countess von Bucquoi and Princess Yusupova; fluttering behind the artist’s daughter in Julie Le Brun as Flora; and encircling Count Emmanuel Nikolayevich Tolstoy in 1823.

The Met Store has chosen to reproduce this item, which it calls the Palmette Border Jacquard Shawl, in conjunction with the exhibition, and at $95 it is very nice (and who doesn’t like a souvenir for trooping all the way up to 81st Street?).

Now if only they would make me a shredded tutu in honor of Degas’s LittleDancer.

A 1790 self-portrait of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Photo: Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence (1905)

by Lynn Yaeger

Source: Vogue


Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun : beauté, talent et modernité

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun fut célèbre par son talent et par sa beauté. Son talent lui valut d’être admise aux académies de peinture de France, de Rome, de Parme, de Bologne et bien d’autres. Sa beauté lui valut d’être une femme à la mode, et l’agrément de son esprit de garder longtemps cette faveur qui l’entourait des gens les plus distingués de son siècle. Tout ceci se passait avant la première Révolution. Cette beauté, ce talent, cet esprit, furent dans tout l’éclat de leur brillante jeunesse sous le règne de Louis XVI, et la manière dont on accueillit et fêta ses avantages chez les princes et chez le roi prouve une fois de plus que l’on rendait alors justice à tous les genres de mérites, et que les faveurs de la cour venaient avec empressement en reconnaître et en rehausser l’éclat.

Dans tous les tableaux de madame Lebrun où l’ajustement put être arrangé au gré du peintre, les cheveux sans poudre, les draperies élégamment jetées, laissent à la nature toute sa beauté. Le succès immense qu’eurent les portraits de la reine et de toute la famille royale mit bien vite en vogue le talent de la jolie femme ; elle eut aussitôt des amis, des admirateurs, des adorateurs, des envieux et des ennemis, ce cortège obligé de la gloire.

Autoportrait au chapeau de paille, 1782. Huile sur toile, 97,8 x 70,5 cm. National Gallery, Londres.
Autoportrait au chapeau de paille, 1782. Huile sur toile, 97,8 x 70,5 cm. National Gallery, Londres.

Aux premiers symptômes d’une république, madame Lebrun, qui les aimait mieux sans doute en fiction qu’en réalité, quitta Paris et s’éloigna de la France. Elle se réfugia en Italie, cette terre des chefs-d’œuvre, où elle trouva non seulement un abri contre les dangers de la Révolution, mais les jouissances infinies qu’une imagination d’artiste devait éprouver dans cette patrie des arts.

Marie-Antoinette, reine de France, et ses enfants, 1787. Huile sur toile, 275,2 x 216,5 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles.
Marie-Antoinette, reine de France, et ses enfants, 1787. Huile sur toile, 275,2 x 216,5 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles.

Madame Lebrun peignit à Rome quelques beaux portraits ; mais il lui fallait refaire sa fortune. Tout ce qu’elle avait eu de ses nombreux ouvrages avait été perdu pour elle, et alors elle se décida à quitter la ville et le peuple des souvenirs pour un grand pays qui, en fait d’art, en était encore à l’espérance, la Russie. Vigée Lebrun fut reçue à Saint-Pétersbourg avec autant de grâce et d’empressement que de magnificence par l’impératrice Catherine II et par toute sa cour. Madame Lebrun habita successivement Saint-Pétersbourg et Moscou ; puis elle quitta la Russie, comblée d’honneurs et de richesses.

Madame Lebrun parcourut encore le reste de l’Europe, s’arrêta à Vienne et à Berlin, et rentra en France sous le Consulat. Sollicitée de faire un voyage à Londres, elle quitta de nouveau la France, y revint ensuite et en repartit encore. Enfin madame Lebrun, après de longues années de pérégrinations glorieuses et fructueuses, se fixa définitivement à Paris et à Louveciennes, où elle acheta une délicieuse maison.

L’exposition Élisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun se termine bientôt, il ne vous reste plus que quelques jours pour vous ruer au Grand Palais ! Ou bien consultez l’ouvrage intitulé Élisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun de la collection Focus, ainsi que celui de la collection Best Of (en anglais), publiés par Parkstone International.

La mode, la mode, la mode

Portrait de Marie-Antoinette vers 1776 par Jean-Marie Ribou - A droite en haut: portrait de Marie-Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun en 1778. A droite en bas: chaussures ayant appartenu à la reine Marie-Antoinette, vendues aux enchères à Drouot à Pris en 2012 © RMN-Grand Palais/Domaine de Chantilly/Thierry Ollivier - The Art Archive / Musée du Château de Versailles / Gianni Dagli Orti - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
Portrait de Marie-Antoinette vers 1776 par Jean-Marie Ribou – A droite en haut: portrait de Marie-Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun en 1778. A droite en bas: chaussures ayant appartenu à la reine Marie-Antoinette, vendues aux enchères à Drouot à Pris en 2012 © RMN-Grand Palais/Domaine de Chantilly/Thierry Ollivier – The Art Archive / Musée du Château de Versailles / Gianni Dagli Orti – KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

En ce mois de décembre, le Royal Blog de Paris Match termine sa série qui vous propose de mieux connaître la reine Marie-Antoinette. Quatrième et dernier épisode: Marie-Antoinette, une vraie fashionista qui lance les modes dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle.


«La jeune reine n’est pas à la mode, elle est la mode». Dans son livre-coffret «Un jour avec Marie-Antoinette», publié en octobre dernier aux éditions Flammarion, Hélène Delalex, attachée de conservation du patrimoine au château de Versailles, en charge de la Galerie des carrosses, est formelle. «Ses goûts affirmés et toujours dans l’air du temps, comme son audace à arborer les créations d’«avant-garde», font d’elle une icône de la mode: à la Cour, à Paris, toutes les femmes essayent de lui ressembler», explique-t-elle au sujet de l’épouse du roi Louis XVI.


Portrait de Marie-Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun en 1778 The Art Archive / Musée du Château de Versailles / Gianni Dagli Orti
Portrait de Marie-Antoinette par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun en 1778 The Art Archive / Musée du Château de Versailles / Gianni Dagli Orti

Habilement conseillée par sa modiste Rose Bertin, Marie-Antoinette dépense sans compter pour enjoliver ses toilettes. «La représentation est pour elle une ivresse et rien n’est jamais trop beau pour éblouir l’assemblée à chacune de ses apparitions», souligne Hélène Delalex. Celle-ci signale que trois fois par an, à chaque saison, la garde-robe de la reine s’enrichit de 36 nouvelles tenues, réparties en trois ensembles. Soit «douze «grands habits» pour les grandes circonstances, douze «robes riches sur grand panier», et douze «petites robes de fantaisie» pour les après-midi et les petits soupers. À cela s’ajoutent les robes particulières, habits de grossesse et costumes d’amazone pour la chasse…».

Si l’on imagine généralement Marie-Antoinette vêtue de ses somptueuses robes à paniers richement ornées de bijoux, rubans et autres guirlandes de fleurs brodées, la jeune femme privilégiait aussi des tenues plus confortables. «Le port du grand habit de Cour constituait une véritable épreuve physique pour les femmes, raconte l’historienne de l’art. Aussi, vers 1780, Marie-Antoinette préconise de ne le porter qu’exceptionnellement. Il est remplacé par la robe à française caractérisée par son dos flottant formé de plis amples partant sous l’encolure et dégageant la taille, plus souple et confortable.»


La reine va même plus loin. «Dans son Petit Trianon, Marie-Antoinette adopte un style très en vogue. Les robes à l’anglaise, dites «en chemise» ou «en gaulle», réalisées dans une seule pièce de linon ou de mousseline de coton», indique Hélène Delalex. Retenues par de larges rubans noués dans le dos, celles-ci sont portées, les cheveux détachés, avec de grands chapeaux de paille piqués de fleurs. Un look qui était, bien évidemment, plus facile de copier que les traditionnelles robes de Cour. «Ces «robes à la reine», bientôt imitées par le Tout-Paris, rapprochent dangereusement l’image de Marie-Antoinette de celle des actrices, et abolissent la distinction ancestrale entre la reine et ses sujets, une distinction qui passait aussi par la richesse du costume», analyse-t-elle.

Si Marie-Antoinette, qui se plait à jouer à la bergère avec ses enfants dans son Petit Trianon à Versailles, apprécie la modernité et la liberté de ce type de tenue en cette fin du XVIIIe siècle où Jean-Jacques Rousseau prône le retour à la nature, l’image que renvoie la reine choque l’opinion. D’ailleurs, le portrait de «Marie-Antoinette en chemise» qu’Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun expose en 1783 fait scandale. On trouve que l’épouse du souverain se montre en «négligé», dans son intimité. Heureusement que sa mère, la très stricte Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche, était morte depuis trois ans. Sans doute aurait-elle été horrifiée de voir sa fille ainsi figurée, même si, quelques années auparavant, elle lui conseillait davantage de simplicité. Mais c’était alors de coiffure dont il s’agissait.


Hélène Delalex narre qu’à son arrivée à la cour de France, la toute jeune Marie-Antoinette adopte avec le plus grand bonheur la très excentrique mode des «poufs» qui lui permet d’orner sa chevelure des décorations les plus variées. Et de rappeler que sous ce nom se cachaient des «sortes de coussins gonflés de crin, gazes et faux cheveux sur lesquels sont accrochés les objets les plus extraordinaires: cornes d’abondance, oiseaux exotiques, jardins et prairies, petites scènes de théâtre, mappemondes, navire sur des flots agités… À ces ornements, il fallait encore ajouter les rubans, fleurs, nattes et boudins en cheveux, le tout surmonté d’une touffe de plumes.»

Un look qui accable la mère de la reine. Ayant appris, en 1775, que Marie-Antoinette arborait une coiffure de 87,5 cm de hauteur, Marie-Thérèse prend sa plume. «Vous savez que j’étais toujours d’opinion de suivre les modes modérément, mais de ne jamais les outrer. Une jeune jolie reine, pleine d’agréments n’a pas besoin de toutes ces folies. Au contraire, la simplicité de la parure fait mieux paraître et est plus adaptable au rang d’une reine», écrit-elle alors à sa fille. Mais celle-ci n’a que faire de l’avis maternel et n’hésite pas à adresser un nouveau portrait d’elle «à la dernière mode» à l’impératrice à Vienne. Laquelle renvoie aussitôt le tableau, n’y allant pas par quatre chemins pour dire ce qu’elle en pense. «Non, ce n’est pas le portrait d’une reine de France, il y a erreur, s’écrit-elle, c’est celui d’une actrice…!», rapporte l’historienne de l’art.

by Dominique Bonnet

Source: Paris Match