Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun is noted as a very prominent woman/artist in theWorld of the Eighteenth Century art. She is known for her work as a portraitpainter.
Her most famous works are included in the series that she had paintedat age twenty-four of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Vigee-Le Brun was a woman of somany talents. Before she died at eighty-seven years old, she was an accomplishedartist, exceptional musician, and a loving mother to her daughter Julie. Vigee-LeBrun was an unusually unattractive woman. She was charming and self-confidentwith an ability to present her sitters’ personas most advantageously. Vigee-LeBrun was very reputable because she managed to keep her head and professionalreputation in a time of political upheaval. (French Revolution).
This allowedher to gain fame in France, Italy, Austria, and Russia. Vigee-Le Brun was suchan endowed artist that by the age of fifteen she could have supported herselfand her family, if her funds weren’t taken away from her by her stepfather andunruly husband. Just nine years later she began her most famous portrait seriesof Marie-Antoinette. This series included “Marie-Antoinette and herchildren at Versailles -1788,” (shown below) the last portrait of thirtythat Vigee-Le Brun painted of the doomed queen. This painting still hangs atVersailles. Louis XVI said to Vigee-Le Brun, ” I have no knowledge ofpainting, but you make me fond of it.” (Levey 280).
Notice the paintingshown 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 emphasison portraying the carefree life of the aristocracy rather than on grand heroesor pious martyrs. Love and romance were considered to be better subjects for artthan historical or religious subjects. The style was characterized by a free,graceful movement; a playful use of line; and delicate colors. This isrepresented it the work “Marie-Antoinette and her children at Versailles-1788.
” To describe the work in great detail you must first look atMarie-Antoinette. Her complexion is very fair and she is portrayed as anextremely feminine woman. Her femininity is also shown by her dress. The dressis a rich, red color with a low neckline, and surrounded by lace and ribbons.This could represent a “life-line” between Marie-Antoinette and theyoungest 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 couldhave used that to show Marie-Antoinette as a good motherly figure to the othermothers whom would have seen this work. Another symbol of her motherliness isshown because she is holding her children next to what could be the bed of oneof the children, most likely the baby’s crib. The dress is harboring a skirtthat is more than enough trouble for Marie-Antoinette to handle in one day. Thisgown is a representation of the aristocracy and of a woman’s power.
She iswearing a large, matching hat with overbearing feathers. This is also arepresentation of power. The hat is a frequent characteristic in the series ofMarie-Antoinette. Another characteristic of the series is shown byMarie-Antoinette’s legs and feet being rested upon a very decorated pillow.
Thiscould show that she was of the aristocracy and her feet should be above the dirton the floor. Now we move on to the children in the painting. They are allwearing fancy clothes, just as children of the aristocracy would. The oldestchild is looking up with a gaze in her eyes of admiration for her mother. Shelooks as if she is being shown as a young Marie-Antoinette.
The young girl’sdress is also like that of her mother’s. It too, is a deep red color with asmall outline of lace and ribbon around the neck. The dress has an added bowaround 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 notbe shown as overly mature because she is still a young lady. The bow simply downplays the power because of the child-like characteristic.
The baby boy in thepicture is, as noted in the first paragraph, holding onto his mother with anurgency 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 fingerpointing to the crib of his younger brother. The young boy has very niceposture.
His attire is also that of an aristocratic child. This is a symbol ofstrength and masculinity. (At least enough for his age.) All of the children arenicely dressed and they all have very detailed faces; each is showing adifferent expression. (An expression that would relate to their ages.
) They areall very beautiful children. “It is difficult to convey an idea today ofthe urbanity, the graceful ease, in a word the affability of manners which madethe charm of Parisian society forty years ago. The women reigned then: theRevolution dethroned them.” Elisabeth Vige-Le Brun, 1835. The theme ofthe work is to portray Marie-Antoinette through Vigee-Le Brun’s portrait asmother-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 HerChildren” was to create an image of the Queen that would appeal to thecommon folk.
The composition of the portrait shows good relations between thechildren and their mother. The Rococo movement that is in play through this workhas that palette of the typical Rococo painting. It demonstrates the soft colorsand a playful use of the line. It shows the delicacy between each object andperson 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, hadits obvious advantages for Vigee-Le Brun.
Through this relationship, Vigee-LeBrun was granted an acceptance into the Royal Academy. This was a greatadvantage for her because she was technically barred from the academy due to herhusband’s profession. But, Vigee-Le Brun’s relationship had made her presencearound 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 timingwas so close that the night that she left was the same night thatMarie-Antoinette and Louis XVI were arrested. From this escape, she and herdaughter began twelve years of exile. Throughout these twelve years, she againcaptivated the nobility’s attention with her works. Her talent again gained heradmissions into several academies.
One quote from a recent writer serves ascomplete closing for Elizabeth-Louise Vigee-Le Brun when her art ischaracterized as “a conspicuous anachronism, typifying the final attempt byAncient Regime society to shut its eyes to unwelcomed realities, and to takerefuge in a world of make-believe and fancy dress.” (Heller 60).BibliographyFiero, Gloria. The Humanistic Tradition: Faith, Reason, and Power in theEarly Modern World.
3 rd ed. Vol. 4. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998. 143-6. Heller,Nancy. Women Artists: An Illustrated History.
New York: Abbeville PublishingGroup, 1991. 55, 58-66. Levey, Michael. Levey: Painting and Sculpture in France1700-1789. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
278-96. Eighteenth Century.The National Museum of Women in the Arts. 24 Feb. 2000 (http://www.nmwa.