Title: Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
Author: Gita May
Publisher: Yale University 2005
Genre: Nonfiction – Biography
Rating: 4 /5 stars
Reading Challenges: Dewey — 750s; Mixing It Up — Biography
How I Got It: Library Loan
The foremost woman artist of her age, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755—1842) exerted her considerable charm to become the friend, and then official portraitist, of Marie Antoinette. Though profitable, this role made Vigée Le Brun a public and controversial figure, and in 1789 it precipitated her exile. In a Europe torn by strife and revolution, she nevertheless managed to thrive as an independent, self-supporting artist, doggedly setting up studios in Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. Long overlooked or dismissed, Vigée Le Brun’s portraits now hang in the Louvre, in a room of their own, as well as in all leading art museums of the world.
I first encountered Vigee Le Brun in my Women Artists class in college. I instantly liked her neoclassical style of painting. I can’t believe that I never picked up a biography in the intervening years. Thankfully I snatched this from the library shelves. May does not disappoint in giving insight to a talented woman painter of the late 18th century. Vigee Le Brun had the fortune of natural talent, a family that supported her painting, and the acquaintances of many rich patrons. Originally my favorite of her paintings was Marie Antoinette with Her Children (1787), but after reading more about her own life, I love her self portraits. She had a way of capturing people in a moment. The paintings are less static than more neoclassicists. I get a sense of movement in the poses. They are almost like candid photographs. Behind her actual art, I loved hearing about her early life and later travels throughout Europe. And I now have a deeper understanding of the French Revolution’s effects on the participants. Overall, a great biography of a great artists.
My current favorite painting: Self Portait in a Turban with Her Child 1786