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.

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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.”

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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

Source: LOCALXPRESS.CA

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LE SCANDALE DE « MARIE-ANTOINETTE ‘À LA ROSE’ »

[…]

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.

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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

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French Revolutionary Artist Vigee Le Brun Reigns Supreme at the Met

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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

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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.

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

by Lynn Yaeger

Source: Vogue

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Marie-Antoinette, reine de France et ses enfants : un tableau chargé d’Histoire

En 1785, l’image de la reine Marie-Antoinette est dégradée. En pleine affaire du collier, les pamphlets contre « l’autrichienne » pullulent. Cette dernière, pour reconquérir l’opinion du peuple français, commande à son peintre officiel, Madame Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, un portrait la représentant entourée de ses enfants.

Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 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. Raphaël, La Sainte Famille Canigiani, vers 1507-1508. Huile sur bois, 131 x 107 cm. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 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.
Raphaël, La Sainte Famille Canigiani, vers 1507-1508. Huile sur bois, 131 x 107 cm. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

C’est un grand défi pour Vigée-Lebrun qui avait toujours peint la reine seule et qui n’avait alors pas l’habitude des portraits de groupe. C’est avec l’aide de Jacques-Louis David, qu’elle choisit de faire un portrait de composition pyramidale à la manière de la Sainte Famille de Raphaël. La reine Marie-Antoinette est représentée avec  ses trois enfants, sa fille Marie-Thérèse, et ses deux fils Louis-Joseph et Louis-Charles (le futur Louis XVII). Il y a aussi un berceau vide, c’est celui de Sophie-Béatrice qui meurt peu de temps après sa naissance, le tableau étant presque terminé, on décide de laisser le berceau vide.

Ce tableau marque un changement dans la communication politique de la reine. Si l’on observe les premiers portraits de la reine par Vigée-Lebrun, on y voit une reine à la mode avec des robes et des bijoux somptueux ou alors la reine en bergère, la frivole du Petit Trianon. Dans ce tableau la reine est sérieuse, sans apparat, elle porte une robe rouge symbole de la royauté. Elle est représentée comme une mère aimante, proche de ses enfants. Elle remplit le rôle que définit Rousseau dans son Emile, ou De L’éducation.

Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun Marie-Antoinette, reine de France dit « à la Rose », 1783. Huile sur toile, 116 x 88,5 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles. Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun Marie-Antoinette, après 1783. Huile sur toile, 92,7 x 73,1 cm. Collection Timken, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, reine de France dit « à la Rose », 1783. Huile sur toile, 116 x 88,5 cm. Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles.
Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, après 1783. Huile sur toile, 92,7 x 73,1 cm. Collection Timken, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Quand le tableau est présenté au Salon de 1787, Vigée-Lebrun se souvient : « Ma peur était si forte que j’en avais la fièvre. J’allai me renfermer dans ma chambre, et j’étais là, priant Dieu, pour le succès de ma Famille royale, quand mon frère et une foule d’amis vinrent me dire que j’obtenais le succès général ». C’est un triomphe auprès de la cour mais le peuple n’est pas du même avis. Deux ans plus tard, la Révolution éclate. Le berceau vide de la toile de Vigée-Lebrun était un mauvais présage. Le petit Dauphin meurt lors des Etats généraux en 1789. Marie-Antoinette et ses proches sont contraints de quitter le palais de Versailles. La fuite de Varennes est un échec, on connaît la triste fin du couple royal. Le tout jeune Louis XVII meurt à la prison du Temple en 1795, après trois ans de captivité. Seule Madame Royale survivra. Le même jour que la Reine, Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun prend la fuite avec sa fille Julie. Elle visita l’Italie et surtout la Russie. Elle continua à fréquenter les cours d’Europe. Après 13 ans d’exil, elle rentre en France, Napoléon Ier est alors au pouvoir.

Après la mort du Dauphin, la reine ne supportait plus voir ce tableau dans ses appartements, elle le fit décrocher. C’est ainsi que le tableau ne fut pas détruit pendant la Révolution et, qu’à son retour à Paris Vigée-Lebrun put le voir :

« Sous Bonaparte on avait relégué dans un coin du château de Versailles le grand portrait que j’avais fait de la reine entourée de ses enfants. Je partis un matin de Paris pour le voir. Arrivée à la grille des Princes, un custode me conduisit à la salle qui le renfermait, dont l’entrée était interdite au public, et le gardien qui nous ouvrit la porte, me reconnaissant pour m’avoir vue à Rome, s’écria : Ah! que je suis heureux de recevoir ici madame Lebrun ! Cet homme s’empressa de retourner mon tableau, dont les figurés étaient placées contre le mur, attendu que Bonaparte, apprenant que beaucoup de personnes venaient le voir, avait ordonné qu’on l’enlevât. L’ordre, comme on le voit, était bien mal exécuté, puisque l’on continuait à le montrer, au point que le custode, quand je voulus lui donner quelque chose, me refusa avec obstination, disant que je lui faisais gagner assez d’argent. À la restauration ce tableau fut exposé de nouveau au salon. Il représente Marie-Antoinette ayant près d’elle le premier dauphin, Madame, et tenant sur ses genoux le jeune duc de Normandie. »

Pour découvrir ce tableau, rendez-vous à l’exposition du Grand Palais à Paris, grande rétrospective sur l’œuvre de Vigée-Lebrun, du 23 septembre 2015 au 11 janvier 2016.  Et surtout, procurez-vous au plus vite l’ouvrage publié par les éditions Parkstone !

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HIER SOIR À PARIS… VIGÉE-LEBRUN, UNE EXPOSITION GRAND CHIC

Si vous avez une fille ou un fils à marier, emmenez-les séance tenante à l’exposition Vigée-Lebrun au Grand Palais. Aucun des publics habituels n’était à son inauguration. Ni ministre, ni amateur à l’allure « artiste ». Tout le carnet Mondain du Figaro, en revanche, s’y était donné rendez-vous. Les hommes s’appelaient Louis et leurs épouses Adélaïde. On était au-delà du chic. Des effluves de Guerlain flottaient en plein Vatican bourgeois.

C’est simple : tous les exilés de Bruxelles semblent être venus passer la soirée à Paris. Mieux : on aurait dit que les modèles étaient descendus des tableaux pour rejoindre leurs familles dans la salle. L’accent XVI° (l’arrondissement) régnait, des voix rassurantes sans aucune intonation banlieue, gaies et joyeuses comme dans un rallye. Les cartons d’invitation envoyés par le musée allaient de De… à Du…, de La Rochefoucauld à Du Barry en passant par les Polignac.

VIGÉE-LEBRUN AVAIT INVENTÉ PHOTOSHOP AVANT PHOTOSHOP

Autoportrait d'Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun. The State Hermitage Museum / Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets, Svetlana Suetova, Konstantin Sinyavsky
Autoportrait d’Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun.
The State Hermitage Museum / Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets, Yuri Molodkovets, Svetlana Suetova, Konstantin Sinyavsky

Pas d’inquiétude : les œuvres ont beaucoup plu. Au fond, c’était des tableaux de famille du temps où les ancêtres partaient se réfugier à Coblence. Vigée-Lebrun ayant souvent peint Marie-Antoinette, toute la Cour, puis toute la ville, ont défilé devant son chevalet. Le charme de l’époque passe en entier dans ses poses fleuries. On se croirait au Hameau de la Reine. L’atmosphère est celle des « Liaisons Dangereuses ». Des courtisanes et des femmes du monde suprêmement civilisées nous sourient sans rien voir de la misère où baignent les temps. Toutes sont ravissantes.

Vigée-Lebrun ménageait sa clientèle. Elle avait inventé Photoshop avant Photoshop pour embellir ses modèles. A Paris jusqu’en 1790, puis en Italie, en Autriche, en Russie où elle voyage pendant que les Jacobins épouvantent la capitale, partout elle s’en tient à un art idéal et à des clientes idéalisées. Rien à voir avec la virilité martiale des néo-classiques et de son contemporain David. Avec elle, on est dans le sérail de l’Europe, chez les femmes qui « tiennent » la société en douceur.

Les années passent, puis le siècle, et les régimes se succèdent sans que Vigée-Lebrun change rien à son style. De 1780 à 1840, elle reste fidèle à elle-même. Observer son évolution, ce serait regardé pousser l’herbe. Rien ne change jamais. C’est joli mais un peu ennuyeux. Comme son exposition décevante mais suprêmement élégante.

by Gilles Martin-Chauffier

Source: Paris Match

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Sotheby’s vend à Paris les biens de la famille de France – Y compris une “Vigée Lebrun”

«Je ne vous laisserai que la haine et des larmes pour pleurer.» On se croirait dans une tragédie grecque ou, mieux encore, chez Jean Racine. Ces mots se voient pourtant prêtés au comte de Paris (1908-1999), Henri VI pour les monarchistes français, qui connaissait apparemment des différents insurmontables avec ses enfants. Une nombreuse progéniture… Sur les onze garçons et filles qu’il avait eus d’Isabelle d’Orléans-Bragance (1911-2003), il en subsistait alors neuf de vivants.

Le dernier acte de cette pièce à rebondissements (on a de loin dépassé les cinq actes réglementaires) se déroulera les 29 et 30 septembre chez Sotheby’s Paris. En deux jours, la multinationale dispersera ce qui reste de l’héritage mobilier des Orléans. Deux cent trente deux lots se verront proposés sous le titre un peu vague d’«Une collection pour l’Histoire». Les trois objets phares se sont vus retirés in extremis de la vacation. La ministre de la Culture Fleur Pellerin a interdit toute exportation pour le portrait de Louis XIII par Philippe de Champaigne, les comptes manuscrits du château d’Amboise des années 1494-1495 et le portrait de la duchesse d’Orléans (1) par Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (2). Ils feront l’objet de tractations de gré à gré, le séjour forcé en France diminuant fortement leur valeur commerciale.

Une fortune dilapidée 

La consultation du luxueux catalogue édité pour l’occasion rend perplexe. Tout ça pour ça! Richissime en 1940 (il avait alors hérité de 400 millions de l’époque), le comte de Paris aura dilapidé ses avoirs pour des chimères politiques. Il se voyait monter sur le trône de France avec l’appui du général de Gaulle. L’homme a de plus maintenu un train de vie dispendieux, alors que s’évanouissaient les terres au Maroc ou les immeubles en Métropole. Quelques brouilles ont achevé sa ruine. Volontaire, selon certains. En créant la Fondation Saint-Louis en 1975, Monseigneur (je respecte le protocole) aurait sciemment lésé son épouse et sa descendance. Il avait mis dans le corbillon ses châteaux d’Amboise, de Bourbon l’Archambault comme la chapelle royale de Dreux et la chapelle expiatoire de Paris.

Tout a plusieurs fois mal fini. En 1975 précisément, Monseigneur rencontrait sa nouvelle compagne Monique Friesz. Il devait quitter en 1986 Madame (autre titre d’usage), qui avait publié quelques années plus tôt son livre à succès «Tout m’est bonheur». Il faut dire que le couple princier habitait, à Louveciennes, une maison nommée Le Cœur Volant… Il ne lui restait plus au comte qu’à se disputer avec ses enfants. Ce fut chose faite en 1993. Cinq d’entre eux, «les conjurés d’Amboise», attaquèrent sa gestion du patrimoine familial. Le premier procès d’une interminable série. Un petit-fils a en effet fini par s’en mêler. En 2014, un tribunal jugeait la dernière de ces affaires après douze ans de procédures.

Plusieur ventes précédentes 

Entre-temps, l’émiettement s’accentuait: Il y avait eu une vente chez Sotheby’s Monaco en 1991. Il y en aura une autre chez Christie’s Paris en 2008. Le merveilleux «Portrait du duc d’Orléans» par Ingres finissait par ailleurs au Louvre pour 11 millions d’euros, prix d’ami, grâce au groupe AXA. Le musée avait aussi récupéré la parure de saphirs de Marie-Antoinette et Joséphine, rattrapée à la frontière.

En 2014, la saga des rois (détrônés) maudits trouvait son terme. La Fondation de France gardait les biens immobiliers, lourds à entretenir. Les objets d’art revenaient à la famille. Ou du moins ce qui en restait. Car il n’y a finalement pas grand chose dans le catalogue. C’est après la Révolution déjà que les Orléans avaient perdu dans les années 1790 leur fabuleuse galerie de peintures, qui fait aujourd’hui la richesse de certains châteaux anglais. Et en 1853 s’est déroulée la vente de la galerie espagnole de Louis-Philippe, riche de dizaines de Zurbaran ou de Murillo.

Un ensemble très historique 

L’histoire l’emporte donc sur l’art, chez Sotheby’s. Il y a là de jolies aquarelles de Carmontelle sur la cour des Orléans sous Louis XV et Louis XVI. Un ou deux portraits de famille intéressants. Un service de Sèvres un peu tardif produit pour la reine Marie-Amélie. Les dessins du prince de Joinville, un fils de Louis-Philippe et de la dite Marie-Amélie, qui avait un petit talent. Un ou deux beaux meubles, mais guère davantage. Des souvenirs en pagaille, dont beaucoup de décorations de l’ordre du Saint-Esprit. Certaines estimations semblent coquettes, bien sûr, mais tout cela sent la fin de partie. Vingt-huit ans après sa participation en fanfare au «millénaire capétien» (4) il ne reste plus grand chose de la famille de France, dont l’actuel chef Henri, né en 1933, se veut Henri VII.

On verra s’il y aura beaucoup de royalistes dans la salle, pour rattraper cela les 29 et 30 septembre.

(1) Epouse du régicide Philippe-Égalité et mère du roi Louis-Philippe, la duchesse survécut à la Révolution. Elle avait rencontré en prison un politicien d’extrême-gauuche, qui se prit de passion pour elle. Ils passèrent le reste de leur vie ensemble, au grand scandale des royalistes comme des républicains. L’aventure n’est bien sûr pas racontée dans la préface du catalogue, respectueuse des Orléans jusqu’à la flagornerie.
(2) Coïncidence? Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun a aujourd’hui sa rétrospective au Grand Palais.
(3) Hugues Capet, ancêtre des Bourbons et des Orléans, est monté sur le trône en 987.

Pratique 

«Une collection pour l’Histoire», Sotheby’s, 76, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris, vente les 29 et 30 septembre. Visites du 18 au 28 septembre de 10h à 18h, sauf le lundi.Tél. 00331 53 05 53 05, sitewww.sothebys.com

Photo (AFP): Le comte de Paris (Monseigneur ou Henri VI) au temps de sa superbe, vers 1950.

Prochaine chronique le dimanche 13 septembre. Archéologie à Brescia, avec une gigantesque exposition sur “Rome et les gens du Po”. C’est très spectaculaire.

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