Vigee Le Brun Essay, Research Paper
Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun:
“An Exceptional Woman of the Eighteenth Century”
HUM 2234, E001 & E005
February 24, 2000
Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun is noted as a very prominent woman/artist in the
World of the Eighteenth Century art. She is known for her work as a portrait painter. Her most famous works are included in the series that she had painted at age twenty-four of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Vigee-Le Brun was a woman of so many talents. Before she died at eighty-seven years old, she was an accomplished artist, exceptional musician, and a loving mother to her daughter Julie. Vigee-Le Brun was an unusually unattractive woman. She was charming and self-confident with an ability to present her sitters’ personas most advantageously. Vigee-Le Brun was very reputable because she managed to keep her head and professional reputation in a time of political upheaval. (French Revolution). This allowed her to gain fame in France, Italy, Austria, and Russia. Vigee-Le Brun was such an endowed artist that by the age of fifteen she could have supported herself and her family, if her funds weren’t taken away from her by her stepfather and unruly husband. Just nine years later she began her most famous portrait series of Marie-Antoinette. This series included “Marie-Antoinette and her children at Versailles -1788,” (shown below) the last portrait of thirty that Vigee-Le Brun painted of the doomed queen. This painting still hangs at Versailles. Louis XVI said to Vigee-Le Brun, ” I have no knowledge of painting, but you make me fond of it.” (Levey 280).
Notice the painting shown on the pervious page. Vigee-Le Brun was a painter of the Rococo period. Rococo is best described as an eighteenth century art style that placed emphasis on portraying the carefree life of the aristocracy rather than on grand heroes or pious martyrs. Love and romance were considered to be better subjects for art than historical or religious subjects. The style was characterized by a free, graceful movement; a playful use of line; and delicate colors. This is represented it the work “Marie-Antoinette and her children at
Versailles -1788.” To describe the work in great detail you must first look at Marie-Antoinette. Her complexion is very fair and she is portrayed as an extremely feminine woman. Her femininity is also shown by her dress. The dress is a rich, red color with a low neckline, and surrounded by lace and ribbons. This could represent a “life-line” between Marie-Antoinette and the youngest of her children because the baby boy is holding on to it for support. All babies need to feel this closeness with their mothers. Vigee-Le Brun could have used that to show Marie-Antoinette as a good motherly figure to the other mothers whom would have seen this work. Another symbol of her motherliness is shown because she is holding her children next to what could be the bed of one of the children, most likely the baby’s crib. The dress is harboring a skirt that is more than enough trouble for Marie-Antoinette to handle in one day. This gown is a representation of the aristocracy and of a woman’s power. She is wearing a large, matching hat with overbearing feathers. This is also a representation of power. The hat is a frequent characteristic in the series of Marie-Antoinette. Another characteristic of the series is shown by Marie-Antoinette’s legs and feet being rested upon a very decorated pillow. This could show that she was of the aristocracy and her feet should be above the dirt on the floor.
Now we move on to the children in the painting. They are all wearing fancy clothes, just as children of the aristocracy would. The oldest child is looking up with a gaze in her eyes of admiration for her mother. She looks as if she is being shown as a young Marie-Antoinette. The young girl’s dress is also like that of her mother’s. It too, is a deep red color with a small outline of lace and ribbon around the neck. The dress has an added bow around the waist. This is done to show the dress as a dress of less maturity. The daughter does look like a young version of her mother, yes; but she can not be shown as overly mature because she is still a young lady. The bow simply down plays the power because of the child-like characteristic. The baby boy in the picture is, as noted in the first paragraph, holding onto his mother with an urgency to fulfill the need of the mother’s love and presence. The young boy, the middle child, is standing next to the crib of the baby boy with his finger pointing to the crib of his younger brother. The young boy has very nice posture. His attire is also that of an aristocratic child. This is a symbol of strength and masculinity. (At least enough for his age.) All of the children are nicely dressed and they all have very detailed faces; each is showing a different expression. (An expression that would relate to their ages.) They are all very beautiful children.
“[It is] difficult to convey an idea today of the urbanity, the graceful ease, in a word the affability of manners which made the charm of Parisian society forty years ago. The women reigned then: the Revolution dethroned them.” Elisabeth Vig?e-Le Brun, 1835.
The theme of the work is to portray Marie-Antoinette through Vigee-Le Brun’s portrait as mother-like to the other mothers and to the public whom would view her pictures. Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun’s goal through “Marie-Antoinette and Her Children” was to create an image of the Queen that would appeal to the common folk. The composition of the portrait shows good relations between the children and their mother. The Rococo movement that is in play through this work has that palette of the typical Rococo painting. It demonstrates the soft colors and a playful use of the line. It shows the delicacy between each object and person in the entire work.
Through the series of Marie-Antoinette’s portraits, Vigee-Le Brun had developed a relationship with the Queen. This, of course, had its obvious advantages for Vigee-Le Brun. Through this relationship, Vigee-Le Brun was granted an acceptance into the Royal Academy. This was a great advantage for her because she was technically barred from the academy due to her husband’s profession. But, Vigee-Le Brun’s relationship had made her presence around the Queen in France too dangerous because of the Revolution. Due to this, she and her nine year-old daughter made a dramatic escape from Paris. Her timing was so close that the night that she left was the same night that Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI were arrested. From this escape, she and her daughter began twelve years of exile. Throughout these twelve years, she again captivated the nobility’s attention with her works. Her talent again gained her admissions into several academies.
One quote from a recent writer serves as complete closing for Elizabeth-Louise
Vigee-Le Brun when her art is characterized as “a conspicuous anachronism, typifying the final attempt by Ancient Regime society to shut its eyes to unwelcomed realities, and to take refuge in a world of make-believe and fancy dress.” (Heller 60).
Fiero, Gloria. The Humanistic Tradition: Faith, Reason, and Power in the Early Modern World. 3 rd ed. Vol. 4. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998. 143-6.
Heller, Nancy. Women Artists: An Illustrated History. New York: Abbeville Publishing Group, 1991. 55, 58-66.
Levey, Michael. Levey: Painting and Sculpture in France 1700-1789. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. 278-96.
Eighteenth Century. The National Museum of Women in the Arts. 24 Feb. 2000 (http://www.nmwa.org/index.htn).
Enlightenment Humanities class. An A paper.