The artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was one of the best-known and most fashionable portraitists of 18th century France; her clients included the queen Marie Antoinette.

QUOTES “Painting and living have always been one and the same thing for me.”


French artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was born in Paris on April 16, 1755. She achieved early success as an artist; her ability to depict her subjects in a flattering, elegant style made her one of the most popular portraitists in France. Her clientele included aristocracy and royalty, including Marie Antoinette, whose portrait she painted 30 times. After the French Revolution, Vigée Le Brun worked abroad for 12 years. She returned to Paris for her later life and continued to enjoy a degree of fame and success that was very rare for a female artist. She died on March 30, 1842.

Early Life and Artistic Training

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was born in Paris on April 16, 1755, to Louis and Jeanne (née Maissin) Vigée. Her father was a successful artist who encouraged her interest in art. She took lessons from Gabriel Briard, and she received encouragement from well-known artists Joseph Vernet, Hubert Robert and Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

When she was still a teenager, Vigée Le Brun had already begun to attract wealthy clients who wanted to have their portraits painted, and in 1774 she was accepted into the painters’ guild of the Académie de Saint-Luc, which increased her professional exposure. In 1776 she married Jean-Baptiste Le Brun, an artist and art dealer, with whom she had one daughter, Jeanne-Julie-Louise.

Career and Success in Paris

Vigée Le Brun soon became a popular portraitist among the French aristocracy, who appreciated her artistic style. Using loose brushwork and fresh, bright colors, she always depicted her sitters in a flattering manner, posed gracefully and wearing their most stylish clothing.

In 1779, Vigée Le Brun went to the royal residence at Versailles to paint her first portrait of Marie Antoinette. She became the queen’s favorite portraitist and painted her a total of 30 times over the next decade; for one portrait, dated 1787, Marie Antoinette posed with her three children. The queen took an interest in Vigée Le Brun’s career and smoothed the way for her 1783 acceptance into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, France’s most prestigious professional association for artists, which accepted very few female artists.

Throughout the 1780s Vigée Le Brun created portraits of members of the French royal court and aristocracy, including the Duchesse de Polignac and Madame du Barry. She also painted several informal and sensitive self-portraits, including one of herself with her daughter. Although she was best known for her work in portraiture, she also executed occasional mythological and allegorical scenes, such as “Peace Bringing Back Abundance” (1780) and “Bacchante” (1785).

Travels After the Revolution

In 1789, sensing the coming of the revolution that would overthrow the royal family and the aristocracy, Vigée Le Brun left France with her daughter. She traveled through first Italy, and then Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany, finding herself warmly received by the foreign nobilities, who knew her artistic and social reputation. She spent six years in Russia, where she met Empress Catherine II. She worked consistently throughout this time, producing portraits of royalty and aristocrats in her signature style.

Vigée Le Brun returned briefly to Paris in 1802. Finding France much changed since her departure, she chose to live and work in London from 1803–1805, and then she came home permanently in 1805.

Later Life

Vigée Le Brun’s French citizenship had been revoked when she left the country during the Revolution, and her husband was forced to divorce her on grounds of desertion. When she returned permanently to Paris, some of her fellow artists petitioned to have her citizenship renewed, and she reunited with her husband, without the official status of marriage. Her husband died in 1813, and her daughter died in 1819.

After her return to France, Vigée Le Brun spent much of her time at her country house in Louveciennes, near Paris. Her later work included some mythological scenes and many portraits of notable individuals, including the Prince of Wales (later George IV of England), Napoleon’s sister Caroline Murat and woman of letters Germaine de Staël.

Vigée Le Brun published her memoirs, titled Souvenirs, in three volumes between 1835 and 1837. She died at her Paris residence on March 30, 1842.

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
“Self-Portrait with a Black Dog” (1842)
Oil on canvas
Located in the Petit Palais, Paris, France

Courbet was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. He was committed to painting only what he could see, and he rejected the academic convention and the Romanticism of the previous generation of visual artists. His independence set an example that was important to later artists, such as the Impressionists and the Cubists. Courbet occupies an important place in 19th-century French painting as an innovator and as an artist willing to make bold social statements through his work.

“Portrait of the Princess de Broglie” (1853) (detail) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).

Scène de plage, Trouville = Beach Scene, Trouville
Eugène Boudin (French; 1824–1898)
Oil on panel
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, on loan to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain


Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–84, France)

Bastien-Lepage is a French painter of the 19th century closely associated with the beginning of Naturalism, an artistic style that emerged from the later phase of the Realist movement. His output is best-known for its depictions of poor and working people, often in the countryside, but he also painted portraits and landscapes.

The English critic Roger Fry, writing in 1920 of Bastien-Lepage’s legacy:

Monet is an artist whose chief claim to recognition lies in the fact of his astonishing power of faithfully reproducing certain aspects of nature, but his really naive innocence and sincerity was taken by the public to be the most audacious humbug, and it required the teaching of men like Bastien-Lepage, who cleverly compromised between the truth and an accepted convention of what things looked like, to bring the world gradually around to admitting truths which a single walk in the country with purely unbiased vision would have established beyond doubt.

Un jardin à Sorrente (1881) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Un jardin à Sorrente shows Renoir absorbing the particular climate of the  region. Using the distinctive parallel brushstrokes that he developed in the works of this period, Renoir evokes the soft light and tonal harmonies of the Mediterranean landscape, focusing less on rendering precise detail, than on capturing the atmosphere of the place. In the present work Renoir combines the timelessness of the subject with the soft handling and expressive colouring that were the hallmarks of his Impressionist painting.

Pierre Augustin Massé (French; fl. late 19th century) after Charles Napier Kennedy (British; 1852–1898)
Published: The Art Journal (January 1890)