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The Queen And I: Elisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun And The Aristocratic Life Style

3253 words - 14 pages

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was one of the most successful painters of her time. Over the course of her life, spanning from 1755-1842, she painted over 900 works. She enjoyed painting self portraits, completing almost 40 throughout her career, in the style of artists she admired such as Peter Paul Rubens (Montfort). However, the majority of her paintings were beautiful, colorful, idealized likenesses of the aristocrats of her time, the most well known of these being the Queen of France Marie Antoinette, whom she painted from 1779-1789. Not only was Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun the Queen’s portrait painter for ten years, but she also became her close, personal friend. She saw only the luxurious, carefree, colorful, and fabulous lifestyle the aristocracy lived in, rather than the poverty and suffrage much of the rest of the country was going through. Elisabeth kept the ideals of the aristocracy she saw through Marie Antoinette throughout her life, painting a picture of them that she believed to be practically perfect. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s relationship with Marie Antoinette affected her social standing, politics, painting style, and career.
Prior to the 20th century, female artists were the minority members of the art world (Montfort). They lacked formal training and therefore were not taken seriously. If they did paint, it was generally assumed they had a relative who was a more well known male painter. Women usually worked with still lifes and miniatures which were the “lowest” in the hierarchy of genres, bible scenes, history, and mythological paintings being at the top (Montfort). To be able to paint the more respected genres, one had to have experience studying anatomy and drawing the male nude, both activities considered to be improper for women (Russo). However, the eighteenth century witnessed a growing legion of female artists who competed with their male colleagues and each other for patronage and positions in the prestigious academies (Russo). The 18th century in France has been called "the feminine age” (Art and Women FA 2011). For a brief period in French history, women had control over the salons of Paris. Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun was a perfect example of a successful woman in the 18th century.

From an early age, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s passion was clear and encouraged by her family. Her father, Louis Vigée, was a painter who supported her love of painting from the start. He died when Elisabeth was only 12, which could have been a major obstacle to her success, but to console herself she took drawing lessons and visited art galleries (Montfort). When she was still a teenager, she was already attracting wealthy clients to have their portraits painted. She quickly made so much money that she gained the attention of the law and was threatened with arrest for working without a license, because at the time one needed formal classes and a license to be allowed to paint (Russo). To remedy this situation she joined the Academie Saint-Luc in...

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