Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

Peindre et vivre n’a jamais été qu’un seul et même mot pour moi.

–         Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), Souvenirs (Chapitre VIII)


Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) was a French painter, whose legacy persists today.

Five important facts about Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun:

  1. Even though there are experts who say that she was an autodidact, she was not. Her father, a pastelist and member of the Académie de Saint-Luc, instilled her in painting. After his death, she was taught by various painters, such as Gabriel François Doyen and Gabriel Briard.
  2. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun became a member of the Académie de Saint-Luc.
  3. She was a court painter in Versailles and the official portraitist of the French queen Marie Antoinette.
  4. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was an historical painter, too. History painting was seen as best artistic genre and was usually the men’s art. But Élisabeth handed in two historical paintings and was accepted by the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture – the best academy of art in Paris.
  5. She was able to embellish the people she was portraying by modifying slightly facial features, but without completely changing the person. They could be still recognized and identified. So, Photoshop existed already in the 18th and 19th century.


Important paintings:

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Her voyages through Europe:

  • 1781: Flanders and the Netherlands – Un inspiring voyage
  • 1789: French Revolution – Flight and 12 years of exile
  • 1789-1792: Italy – Un artistic enrichment
    • Turin, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Florence
    • Rome: the city of all painters
    • Naples: royal orders
    • Rome, Parma, Venice, Turin, Milan
  • 1792-1795: Vienna – The key to Russia
  • 1795-1801: Rusia – Imperial orders
    • Prague, Dresden, Berlin
    • 1795-1800: Saint Petersburg
    • 1800-1801: Moscow
    • 1801: Saint Petersburg
  • 1801: Germany – Return to Paris
  • 1803-1805: London – A new art market
  • 1807 and 1808: Switzerland – Nature, recovery, self-discovery
  • 1820: Bordeau – Un voyage of melancholia


Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun converted her flight and exile into a voyage of business, amusement and artistic formation.

She established international and aristocratic contacts, received lucrative orders, became famous throughout Europe, commercialized her talent and paintings and organized her life, business and finances. She promoted herself during her voyages, especially with her painting Lady Hamilton en Sibylle de Cumes.

She got to know important personalities, became friends with the princesses Dolgoroukaïa and Kourakina of Russia. Accepted in the high society, she enjoyed her life. She went to concerts, balls, theatre performances and private soirées. Briefly, she lived her Parisian life.

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was accepted in the academies of Bologna, Florence, Rome, Parma, Saint Petersburg and Berlin. She had always dreamed of going to Rome since Rome was the city of all painters. The Prix de Rome organized voyages for studying, but only for male painters. Women had to organize and finance this voyage by her own. Élisabeth travelled independently from court to court and from country to country. She had a cultural program of things she wanted to visit: galleries of art, museums, churches, chapels. She studied on one hand paintings, sculptures, engravings and reliefs, on the other hand nature, landscapes and mythological paintings. Especially Italy served as perfection of her artistic techniques and finalization of her artistic education.  

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was a modern and emancipated business woman.

She had a strong personality, otherwise she would not have bear all the violence of the revolution and the long and severe voyages. But she won recognition as strong business woman with an independent life, since she was independent from men. Élisabeth could succeed artistically and financially due to her good organization and business sense. She organized her life, finances, voyages, orders and business – all by her own – and earned enough to live at ease with her daughter and the governess. Her memoirs serve as proof for the future.

Je vous fais ce récit pour vous prouver à quel point la passion de la peinture était innée en moi. Cette passion ne s’est jamais affaiblie ; je crois même qu’elle n’a fait que s’accroître avec le temps ; car, encore aujourd’hui, j’en éprouve tout le charme, qui ne finira, j’espère, qu’avec ma vie.

–         Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Souvenirs (Lettre I)


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