Exhibition | Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842)

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 16, 2015

Opening next month in Paris at the Grand Palais:

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842)
Grand Palais, Paris, 23 September 2015 — 11 January 2016
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 9 February — 15 May 2016
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 10 June — 12 September 2016

Curated by Joseph Baillio and Xavier Salmon

This first retrospective devoted to the works of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun presents an artist whose life stretched from the reign of Louis XV to that of Louis-Philippe—one of the most eventful and turbulent periods in European and above all French history of modern times.

affiche-elvb_pageexpoSelf-portraits by Vigée Le Brun abound: paintings, pastels and drawings that elegantly associate feminine grace and pride. With the Ancien Régime and its School of Fine Arts coming to an end, she supplanted most of her rival portrait artists. Vigee Le Brun used self-portraits to assert her status, circulate her image and show people the mother she had become despite the constraints of a career.

She made her greatest coup de force at the 1787 Exhibition where she presented two paintings that cannot be dissociated. First, a Portrait of Queen Marie-Antoinette posing for a portrait surrounded by her children in an attempt to rectify the image of an extravagant libertine; secondly, the portrait of a female artist hugging her daughter Julie to her chest in an effusive Raphael-like manner. The latter is one of the finest and most popular of the many works by this painter owned by the Louvre and has remained the emblem of «maternal tenderness» since it was first exhibited to the public. The culture of the Enlightenment and the influence of Rousseau obliged the artist to take on this role, which she did happily and with resounding success. As a counterpoint, she painted the Portrait of Hubert Robert. These paintings are absolute icons illustrating the joy of life and creative genius, complementing and communicating with each other.

What is even more remarkable was her determination to overcome obstacles hindering her career. Born in Paris in 1755, she came from a relatively modest background, her mother a hairdresser and her father a talented portrait artist. Her father died when she was a young adolescent. Drawing inspiration from his example, the brilliant young artist was accepted as a master painter at the Academy of Saint-Luc. In 1776, she married the most important art dealer of her generation, Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun (1748–1813), but this prevented her from being accepted at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture because its regulations formally forbid any contact with mercantile professions. However, this union had a beneficial effect on her career. When the price of Flemish paintings soared, she learnt how to master the magic of colours and the fine craftsmanship of Rubens and Van Dyck. Her clientèle had mainly been the bourgeoisie but in 1777, she started working for the aristocracy, descendants of royal blood and finally Queen Marie-Antoinette. However, it was not until 1783 and the intervention of the Queen’s husband, Louis XVI, that the portrait artist was able to join the Royal Academy of Painting after much polemic.

Organized by the Réunion des musées nationaux/Grand Palais in Paris, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The exhibition booklet is available here»

Details on the catalogue to follow later.

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