Portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Thanks to Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun exhibition in Paris, I have discovered the work of this artist. Before, I mainly knew her portraits of Queen Marie-Antoinette.


Self Portrait with Cerise Ribbon circa 1782 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Self Portrait with Cerise Ribbon circa 1782 (click the pictures to enlarge)

Her life could have been the subject of a novel. Her father was a pastellist and she started drawing as she was very young. She painted many portraits and finally was recommended to French queen Marie-Antoinette. She soon became Marie-Antoinette official painter.


Marie-Antoinette en chemise vers 1783 par Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Marie-Antoinette wearing a nightshirt circa 1783. This painting was criticized because people found disrespectful to show the queen wearing a nightgown.


Marie-Joséphine Louise de Savoie, , Countess of Provence in a nightdress in 1782 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Marie-Joséphine Louise de Savoie, Countess of Provence and King Louis XVI’s sister-in-law in 1782 (she was wearing a nightdress too)

During the French Revolution broke out, being close to Marie-Antoinette became risky. Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun fled France with her daughter and travelled through Europe. Her reputation and her social skills helped her to fit in different European courts. She earned a living painting high society and celebrities. In her paintings, I found people who were also in history books.

Vigée Le Brun revealed the personality of her models by playing with poses, backgrounds, she represents some characters with a rose, a book or a a sheet of music. But her paintings have in common a form of softness.


Isabella Teoto chi Marini in 1792 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Isabella Teoto chi Marini in 1792. This painting was for Dominique Vivant Denon, Isabella’s lover.


Princess Karoline Felicitas Engelberte von und zu Liechtenstein in 1793 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Princesse Karoline Felicitas Engelberte von und zu Liechtenstein in 1793

At that time, painting replaced photography. Portraits were also used to become better known and to look good. And Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was a master in the art of photoshopping making her models look beautiful.

In addition to portraits, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun painted a lot of family paintings and child portraits.


Jeanne Julie Louise Le Brun looking at herself in a mirror in 1787 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Jeanne Julie Louise Le Brun looking at herself in a mirror in 1787. This painting shows Vigée Le Brun dear daughter.


Alexandrine Emilie Brongniart in 1788 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Alexandrine Emilie Brongniart in 1788

What is interesting too is the evolution of hairstyles and outfits as fashions was changing, such as those two portraits that were painted 30 years apart.


Comtesse de la Châtre circa 1789 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Comtesse de la Châtre circa 1789


Tatiana Borssovna Potemkina circa 1820 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Tatiana Borssovna Potemkina circa 1820

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun wished she were a history painter, the most prestigious category at the time, and she would paint historical and mythological scenes but moral used to forbid women to paint naked men. It didn’t prevent her from making paintings inspired by Mythology such as this painting of Lady Hamilton as a bacchante.


Lady Hamilton as a bacchante dancing in front of Vesuvius in 1792 by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun


Lady Hamilton as a bacchante dancing in front of Vesuvius in 1792

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was allowed to come back to France by Napoléon. She painted portraits and drew pastel landscapes until an advanced age.

For more information:

* Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun exhibition in Paris website

* You can still attend Vigée Le Brun exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canada until September 11, 2016

Version française

3 thoughts on “Portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

  1. I’m no art critic, but these paintings are timeless and beautiful. Thank you for sharing these, I’ve been doing my best to explore the world of art from my computer and this was a nice little stop!

  2. Pingback: Mme D’Aguesseau, ca. 1770 – costume cocktail

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