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 Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun  (1755 - 1842)

/ VEE-zhay leh BREH(N)/
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Lived/Active: France/Europe      Known for: portrait painting, royal court artist

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from Auction House Records.
Portrait d'Aglaé de Gramont, née de Polignac, duchesse de Guiche (1768-1803)
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was one of the most famous painters during her time.  During her eighty seven-year life, which spanned from 1755-1842, she created well over 600 pieces of artwork.  In a time period where it was uncommon to be a female artist, Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun put her best effort forth to overcome this adversity.  Women painters were not recognized nearly as much as men painters, but Vigée-Lebrun's artwork had its own uniqueness that distinguished her artwork 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.  These were among some of the constant controversies she endured throughout her life.

Her father, who was also an artist, provided lessons for her in her youth, but she mostly self-taught herself how to be an artist.  At the age of fifteen, Vigée-Lebrun had demonstrated such skill that she was able to provide support for herself, her widowed mother, and brother.  At the age of twenty her mother pushed her into marrying their landlord, Jean Baptise Pierre Lebrun.  He was a prestige art dealer and artist that she believed influenced most of her paintings. 

Aside from being influenced by her husband, she was blessed naturally with an exceptional talent to please people with her art, especially famous people such as Queen Marie Antoinette.  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, Vigée-Lebrun 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. 

Several years later, after 1789, in the turmoil of the French Revolution, Vigée-Lebrun became in danger.  Because she was in close ties with the court, she had to flee the country.  She fled the country traveling to such places as Vienna, Prague, Dresden, London, and St. Petersburg.  While traveling around Europe in exile, she became a member of the Academies of Rome, Florence, Bologna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin.  At these places, she painted heads of state and other aristocrats to help support herself and her family.  She continued supporting her family for twelve years, and 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.

Vigée-Lebrun's 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 plethora of work ranges from history paintings to landscapes.  But, the majority of her work were beautifully colored portraits of the most prominent aristocrats and royalty.  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.

Source:
"Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun", Women's History, http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/mlevl.html


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