Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun
The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution
Imprint: Yale University Press
The story of Marie Antoinette’s portraitist, a remarkable woman living in dangerous times
The foremost woman artist of her age, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755—1842) exerted her considerable charm to become the friend, and then official portraitist, of Marie Antoinette. Though profitable, this role made Vigée Le Brun a public and controversial figure, and in 1789 it precipitated her exile. In a Europe torn by strife and revolution, she nevertheless managed to thrive as an independent, self-supporting artist, doggedly setting up studios in Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. Long overlooked or dismissed, Vigée Le Brun’s portraits now hang in the Louvre, in a room of their own, as well as in all leading art museums of the world.
This gripping biography tells the story of a singularly gifted and high-spirited woman during the revolutionary era and explores the development and significance of her art. The book also recounts the public and private lives of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, connecting her with such personalities of her age as Catherine the Great, Napoleon, and Benjamin Franklin, and setting her experiences in the context of contemporary European politics and culture. A generous selection of illustrations, including sixteen of Vigée Le Brun’s portraits presented in full color, completes this exceptional volume.
~Colin B. Bailey
“A well-written and engaging introduction to the life, times, and art of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, certainly the most traveled and most cosmopolitan artist of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. May’s enthusiasm for her subject and sympathetic treatment of her Memoires provide a compelling narrative and bring into sharper focus the remarkable energy and ambition of Marie Antoinette’s most talented portraitist.”—Colin B. Bailey, Chief Curator, The Frick Collection
“This is a sparkling book and a wonderful read for anyone interested in the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, or French art and history. Gita May tells the colorful story of a woman who was a monarchist in her political views but, in her personal life, a revolutionary.”—Susan Dunn, Professor of Humanities, Williams College
"Follows a strict chronological focus and is written in a direct, engaging manner. Highly recommended."