Resistance and Success: Career Portraitist Le Brun

Self-portrait, Paris, 1782 (27 years old)

Resistance and success came in tandem to Le Brun as a female painter in French fin de siecle society. The daughter of a portraitist, Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun (1755- 1842) was painting portraits professionally in her early teens from her parent’s home. As this was illegal without a license, Le Brun had to publicly apply for license and the French Academy (unwillingly) had to display her works as part of the process. This was in 1774, when Le Brun was 19 and a year before she married a painter and art dealer who would help her rise. Soon Le Brun found more success than resistance, as Marie Antoinette invited her to court to paint her portrait. The Queen’s invitation laid the foundation for Le Brun’s great success as the portrait painter of her day.

Self-Portrait with Daughter, Paris, 1789 (34 years old)

Le Brun’s skilled, Rococo style and personal warmth pleased the Queen so much that Le Brun was commissioned to paint many at the royal court. In 1783, Le Brun and another woman were both admitted as members of the French Academy (although only through the political pressures of the Queen).

Self-Portrait, Russia, 1800 (45 years old)

The French revolution upset all social order, and Le Brun fled the country. She spent years painting the heads of state of Italy, Russia, and Austria. Then, Napoleon welcomed her back to France, and Le Brun remained an active painter well into her older years, painted over 800 paintings and wrote memoirs that provide a glimpse into how artist’s were trained. She lived to be 87 years old, and is as remarkable for steady production of work as well as her rise and fall with the tides of national fortune. All the more remarkable for doing it as a woman

Self-Portrait, 1808, Paris, 56 years old

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