Saturday, November 3, 2012

Vigee-Lebrun, Marie Louise Elisabeth

Self-portrait in a straw hat
after 1782
oil on canvas
97.8 × 70.5 cm (38.5 × 27.8 in.)
National Gallery, London, UK

Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755 - 1842), French artist born in Paris, was one of the most famous painters of the 18th century. She was an extremely industrious and productive painter and made a brilliant career. During her eighty seven-year life, she created well over 600 pieces of artwork. In a time period where it was uncommon to be a female artist, she put her best effort forth to overcome this adversity. Women painters were not recognized nearly as much as men painters, but her artwork had its own uniqueness that distinguished it apart from others. She not only had to overcome the adversity of being a woman, but also had to escape the turmoil of the French Revolution.

She was so talented that in 1778, she was summoned to Versailles to become the official painter to Queen Marie Antoinette. Because they were the same age, they became friends and confidants. Throughout the next ten years, she painted the Queen more than thirty times. In 1783, she was admitted to the French Academy of Arts, which was a great accomplishment because most women at the time were denied entry into such programs. After 1789, in the turmoil of the French Revolution, she became in danger because she was in close ties with the court. She fled the country immigrating to such places as Vienna, Prague, Dresden, London, and St. Petersburg. Her fame grew even more with such immigration. In 1801, she moved back to Paris. However, because she disliked Parisian social life under Napoleon, she left for London where she painted pictures of the court and Lord Byron. She moved yet again to Switzerland, but did not stay long, and returned to her home of Paris, where she painted until her death in 1842.

She was fashionable with the European aristocracy. Her portraits are elegant and rich in color, very sentimental and idealized the model. But the evident difference of the models from their pictorial depiction did not embarrass the customers. Her independence is one of the main reasons that many people admire her. She is considered a role model, especially to female artists, because of her wide recognition of skills and gained admittance to academies that were closed to her sex. Her unique and exceptional talent made her one of the most sought out painters of her time. She was blessed with a natural ability that people adored, even centuries later. Her style is generally considered Rococo and shows interest in the subject of neoclassical painting. In her best works the magnificent art of French portraitists of the 18th century and fine sensitiveness of the European sentimentalism are happily united.