The life and work of the artist Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

Among the many names of famous painters, which at all on hearing (Matisse, Picasso, van Gogh and others), is the name of the woman who now, perhaps, not so popular, but left behind a rich legacy of his paintings. And during her life and the flourishing of art, she was even a court artist. Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun – here you are talking about.

Early years

Marie Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun (then just Cabinda) was born in 1755 in Paris, the artist's family. The family was creative – brother of Elizabeth, étienne, went on to become a writer, and a similar atmosphere of holiday, creativity, fun reigned in their house all the little Lizzy. Father Louis was a native of a simple working family, independently made a name for himself, kind and cheerful person (unlike his wife Jeanne – grumpy and tough), and their house was always full of guests. It visited! Elizabeth and Etienne from childhood was familiar with Voltaire, Diderot, Gresham… the Mother was never involved in communicating with guests – she absolutely did not like the way of life of her husband, and she wanted the children behaved as well as she did. However, the older daughter that the younger son went to his father.

From the age of six Elizabeth Vigee became a student of a Catholic Board on the insistence of his mother. The girl there was boring and instead of listening to mentors, she drew in a notebook. Her abused mother and teacher, only one father rejoiced, knowing that his beloved daughter to follow in his footsteps. Since that time, he decided to teach her painting, which he did, taking her out of the house.

early career

With eight years young Lizzie diligently studied drawing under the strict guidance of his father and was making headway. However, in twelve years, everything collapsed: his father died suddenly. Mother soon found a new husband, a court jeweler. He was very rich, but as a wife, it is not encouraged Hobbies stepdaughter. Elizabeth had hard times, but she was lucky: two of his father's friend agreed to give her free lessons, and making out in the girl's undoubted talent, began to strive about the exhibitions of her work. Soon, cultural Paris to speak about a new rising star – young Elizabeth Vigee.

Since I was fifteen, Elizabeth began to earn with his skill so much that it might support the welfare of the family. It changed the attitude of her choice and the mother and stepfather – the latter was much nicer, and never missed an opportunity to cuddle Lizzie. She wanted as soon as possible "to fly from the nest”.

a Creative way

the paintings of Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun is from a young age featured an interesting trait: it is, before realizing that the rich love the rules, worked hard in painting this. Her work is somewhat theatrical, exaggerated, idealized. People, captured it in the pictures, appear in the most favorable light. Of course she could not love for it, and even as a teenager, she earned the title “talented portraitiste”. In this manner of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun continued to write all his life.


Dream Elizabeth to leave his father's house came true when she was twenty: in 1775 she married Jean-Baptiste Lebrun. He was a merchant – was selling paintings and he wrote them, but never became as popular as his wife. Not to say that Elizabeth loved her husband-she married him for convenience, knowing full well that this is her chance, first, to escape from the house where there was not strength to endure molestation stepfather, and secondly, to the best of all Lebrun was acquainted with many influential persons.

Therefore, despite the fact that many acquaintances (including, by the way, and stepfather) tried to dissuade her from this marriage, talking about Lebrun's not too many good things (that he's a drunk, a lover of women and gambling that he has no will power), she married him. And Lebrun, anyway, was glad to have a beautiful wife – Elizabeth for twenty years absolutely blossomed into a charming young woman (her beauty well seen in the self-portraits, of which she has written a lot).
Husband and wife presumably supported by a partnership: he introduced her to the aristocratic circle “elite”, where she found a new customer. The artist diligently drew and earned more than the husband, whose business is, frankly, not much went uphill. Paintings by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun became more and more popular, it has acquired customers, the couple opened a private gallery, where he exhibited the work. Besides the best customers, found best portrait painter and patrons – it took care of the noble houses.


After five years of marriage the couple Lebrun was born first and only child-a daughter Jeanne-Julia Louis. Elizabeth, love the baby more than anything, called her just Julie and never let go of the. The daughter was a real ray of light in a not very happy marriage – with her husband at Elizabeth's gone wrong, becoming day by day more and more cool (after a while they even began to live separately).

And although at the time it was decided to hire a governess, Elizabeth all of the time spent with the child and a lot of drawing myself and daughter together. The girl, incidentally, was remarkably similar to the mother and was not inferior in the beauty and growing up, even surpassed it.


two years before the birth of her daughter in the life of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun was an amazing event that completely changed her life – familiarity with Queen Marie Antoinette. The rumor about a talented portretista arrived in the yard, and in 1778 Elizabeth was summoned to Versailles to paint a portrait of the monarch. From the very first moment of meeting the two girls got closer to each other – Marie-Antoinette brought to France from Austria, felt like a stranger in Paris and willingly succumbed to the flattery and compliments of Elizabeth, for which, of course, was quite superfluous the patronage of crowned heads.
So began the amazing adventures in the life of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun. It has become a new pastime of the Queen, her life, companion, mistress – to be called whatever you like, the essence remains the same. A year later Marie-Antoinette appointed the girl to the official court artist, but just drawing duties Elizabeth was not limited to: she walked with the Queen, played the harpsichord, sang a duet, traveling – in General, was with her almost all the time.

For more than ten years of close friendship with Queen Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun wrote more than thirty portraits of her. She portrayed Marie Antoinette one, with the children in different rooms and outfits and, of course, a little more perfect than it really was. Queen were thrilled with each work of the artist and in 1783 promoted that Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun became a member of the Royal Academy of fine arts. This event has generated unprecedented public outcry – because at that time it was not customary to take such institutions are women (because they were taught to draw the human with the Nude male model). However, Elizabeth with Marie Antoinette succeeded, and jealous of her, already large, has grown significantly. In addition to portraits of the Queen, Elizabeth wrote and other notable people relatives to the court – mostly women with whom she felt more freely.
Last portrait of Marie Antoinette painted by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun appeared in 1789, and in the same year was cooling Queen to her favorite. It happened through the efforts of one of his colleagues Elizabeth, believing that she took her place at court. It spread through Paris gossip about the affair Vigee-Lebrun with the Minister of Finance and their fake conversation in which they allegedly mocked the Queen. The pride of Marie Antoinette was hurt and she didn't want to see Elizabeth. It is unknown what would be next, if not well-known historical events – drew the French revolution.

the French revolution

after Parting with Marie Antoinette in 1789, Elizabeth never seen – the Queen died on the scaffold, as, indeed, some ladies. the same fate awaited the artist, because it was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth but in time he sensed the danger and wanted to save her daughter and herself, hastily left France. Leaving from Paris, she could not think that her “voyage” will last for eleven years.

First country which was visited by Elizabeth and Julie, was Italy. Having been in Rome and Naples, writing the portraits of several local nobles, Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun was about to return home, believing that everything has already subsided. However, at home it was a surprise: the name of the artist brought in a list of counterrevolutionaries, which was to arrest and send to trial, which ultimately would mean death. So with the return I had to wait. So, with a stop in Austria, Elizabeth and Julie were in Russia.


In Petersburg the French artist has lived for nearly six years-from 1795 to 1801. And the country, the city and the Russian people has made her most favorable impression, what is she being true to herself, testified in his diaries. But it just wasn't exactly well received – to be precise, took her as the Empress Catherine II.
Thank Elizabeth rolled ahead of her, and, arriving in St. Petersburg, the artist quickly becomes overgrown with orders. Customers admired her excitedly, and Catherine also wanted to know what is so great French. She ordered Vigee-Lebrun portrait of his granddaughters, Elena and Alexandra. The work was executed in time, however, the top ordered it she did not like. Brought up in a different spirit than the Europeans, admired the idealized theatricality of the Rococo, Catherine preferred the Baroque and wanted to see the truth and not "combed" picture. In girls portrait painted by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun the Empress, by her own admission, found no similarity with the original, “no taste, no dignity”. Later Catherine with contempt and indignation, spoke about the French artist, however, that this confused not really – orders she's had enough.
During his stay in Russia, Elizabeth, Jeanne-Julie, got married and ran away from his mother, thus repeating her own way. When Elizabeth was going to leave Russia, Julie's husband was still there.

back in France

In France, meanwhile, “ball rules" of Napoleon. It is more than cool attitude to Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, and the upper light already managed to forget her for a while, until it was absent. There was no money, had nowhere to live – ex-husband (Jean-Baptiste they divorced soon after leaving Elizabeth and Julie to Italy) took it home with me. Therefore, the artist took the only right decision-to leave again. This time the target was England, which is so fond of Elizabeth, she lived there for seven years.
Returned to France (this time forever) it is at the personal invitation of Napoleon, remembering suddenly about the glory of Elizabeth. By the time she was over fifty, and to work so nimbly as before, she couldn't. And France was not one that he remembered her – for the later recognition of Elizabeth, she was never able to accept and love their new country.

Shortly after his return to France, there also came to Julie with her husband. She went to live with her mother, but tragically died in 1813. With her departure, the Elizabeth is missing the meaning of life. The works of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun began to appear less and less, until finally, the artist has not ceased to write at all – first self-portraits, favorite it first, then everything else.
In 1842, Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun died at the age of 86 years. The last way to her accompanied by only a few people – all that's left from the old fans portraitiste.

Interesting facts

  • To tremble hated wigs, not wearing them myself and at one time even refused to marry a man who wore a wig.
  • Called themselves happy, just standing at his easel.
  • has Reached such perfection that he could write a wonderful portrait for two or three hours. In the result, the price of her paintings was even higher than that of many eminent artists of that era.
  • Some pictures of her authorship erroneously attributed to the brushes other artists.
  • Whole life kept a diary, where she sang the praises to almost everyone I met.
  • was the same age as Marie Antoinette.
  • the Memoirs of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun was published in 1835 and later have undergone several editions.
  • According to estimates most artists, she wrote in my entire life over 660 portraits and landscapes, and 15 historical subjects – a total of about 700 works.
  • was a member of eight Academies of fine arts of different countries.
the Life of Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun is an example of the fate of many talented people, at first won great fame and greatness, and then slowly fade alone. Fortunately for her, she, unlike many of its fellow-sufferers, left behind many works that are exhibited and are appreciated by art lovers worldwide so far. And this is a lot.