Who was Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun

Who was Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun?

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755–1842), portrait painter of Rococo and Classicism valued throughout Europe. About 660 portraits and 200 landscapes of her have survived, 37 of which are self-portraits (20 personal copies).


Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun was the daughter of the only moderately successful Parisian painter Louis Vigée (1715–1767) and the hairdresser Jeanne Maissin (1728–1800), which is why her father was her first teacher. After the early death of her father, she was trained by Gabriel Briard and later Claude-Joseph Vernet.


Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun quickly made money with portraits. Especially the ladies of society discovered Vigée, who was considered pretty and came from a poor background, and liked to let her paint them. On January 11, 1776, Elisabeth-Louise married the art dealer Lebrun, who continued to support her artistic activities.

The 24-year-old portraitist achieved her breakthrough when she was allowed to immortalize Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1778. The Queen also got her favorite painter accepted into the Academy (against the opposition of her male colleagues and with the help of King Louis XVI's voice). She became an academician on May 31, 1783 together with Adélaide Labille-Guiard. The Queen's favor brought Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun a large number of commissions, but the close connection between the painter and her high-standing model was the reason to leave Paris in 1789.

Emigration and return to Paris

First she emigrated to Italy with her daughter, where she painted portraits in Rome, then she traveled on to Naples, Vienna, Berlin and St. Petersburg, where she portrayed members of the high nobility. A self-portrait of Vigée-Lebrun from 1790, now in the Uffizi Gallery, was a gift to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the brother of Marie-Antoinette and later Emperor Leopold II of Austria. That is why the painter is currently working on a portrait of Marie-Antoinette at the easel. Presumably, the artist wanted to identify herself as a loyal royalist. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun is dressed in a costume with echoes of the fashion of the first half of the 17th century, with which the painter expressed her admiration for Anthonis van Dyck. The self-portrait, which appeared spontaneously due to the rotation, was included in the Galleria dei autoritratto [gallery of self-portraits], which was already famous at the time.

On January 18, 1802, she was able to return to Paris, where she lived in a country house in the area. Around 1810 she painted Madame de Staël, whom she met on a trip to Switzerland. The suffragette and poet is depicted in the disguise of Corinna, the heroine of her novel of the same name.

Vigée-Lebrun in Vienna

In early 1793 Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun came to Vienna, where she stayed until April 1795. She also created important portraits in the royal seat of the Habsburgs - above all for the princely family of Liechtenstein. She painted "Karoline Fürstin von Liechtenstein, nee Countess von Manderscheidt, as Iris" (wife of Prince Alois I) and her sister-in-law Hermenegilde in the role of Ariadne. Both portraits were hanging in the family's classicist Majoratshaus in Herrengasse (demolished). Since there are no other role portraits to be found in Vigée-Lebrun's work, she is likely to have orientated herself to the portraits of Angelika Kauffmann - as well as for the freer painting style and the ideal of naturalness. The painter also made fruitful use of her knowledge of the "attitudes" of Lady Hamilton in Naples and the depictions of dancers in frescoes in Herculaneum. How unconventional the portrayal must have seemed to contemporaries is revealed by the prince's grandparents expressing their disconcertment. Vigée-Lebrun wrote in her "Souvenirs":

"I brought the large portrait of Princess Liechtenstein that I was doing back then to Hietzing to finish it. This young princess was very good-looking: her pretty face had a lovely and heavenly expression that gave me the idea of ​​her as Iris She is painted in full figure, and soars in the air, her veil, in the colors of the rainbow, surrounds her and hovers around her. It must be added that I painted her with bare feet; but as the picture in the The prince's gallery was placed, the heads of the family were very shocked to see that the princess was shown without shoes. The prince told me that he had a pretty pair of ball shoes attached under the portrait, which - he said to the grandparents - were about to slip away and fall to the ground. "

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun left an animated portrait in Vienna with various motifs of movement and a landscape background. However, it was Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller who made the landscape recognizable as the Vienna Woods in the 1820s.