The Painter of Women
She was a French painter, and her full name was: Marie-Louise-Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. She was born in Paris in 1755, and she died also in Paris, in 1842. Vigée-Lebrun was for sure one of the most successful of all women artists, particularly noted for her portraits of women.
Her father was Louis Vigée, a pastel portraitist and her first teacher. She studied later with a number of well-known painters, among them Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Joseph Vernet. In 1776 she married a picture dealer, J.-B.-P. Lebrun. Her great opportunity came in 1779 when she was summoned to Versailles to paint a portrait of Queen Marie-Antoinette. The two women became friends, and in subsequent years Vigée-Lebrun painted about 30 portraits of Marie-Antoinette in a great variety of poses and costumes; a number of these may be seen in the museum at Versailles. Vigée-Lebrun became a member of the Royal Academy in 1783.
On the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, she left France and for 12 years traveled abroad, to Rome, Naples, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, painting portraits and playing a leading role in society. In 1801 she returned to Paris but, disliking Parisian social life under Napoleon, soon left for London, where she painted portraits of the court and of Lord Byron.
Later she went to Switzerland (and painted a portrait of Mme de Staël) and then again (c. 1810) to Paris, where she ceased painting.
Vigée-Lebrun was a woman of much wit and charm, and her memoirs, Souvenirs de ma vie (1835-37; Reminiscences of My Life), provide a lively account of her times as well as of her own work. She was one of the most technically fluent portraitists of her era, and her pictures are notable for the freshness, charm, and sensitivity of their presentation. Vigée Lebrun's portraits are very unique and totally captivating. She went to great lengths to make each portrait fit the subject and tell a little of the sitters story. The poses and props are all different and well suited to each person she painted. Each painting can be matched to periods in her travels during and after the French Revolution and to stories that appear in her autobiography about the friendships of the people she painted. During her career, according to her own account, she painted 877 pictures, including 622 portraits and about 200 landscapes.
I show above some works of the artist, that appeared on stamps. The only exceptions are the "Self Portrait in a Straw Hat", by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun and by Rubens, where I publish the portraits themselves. EVL's work was painted after 1782, and it is found at the National Gallery, London. It is a free imitation of Rubens' "Chapeau de Paille", found also at the National Gallery, a work which EVL has seen in Antwerp. The painting appears to be an "autograph" replica of a picture, the original of which was painted in 1782. The painter wears a real straw hat, which is the correct translation of "Chapeau de Paille", and not one of felt, like that worn by Rubens' sitter.
Please point to the images with the mouse index for more information. The scan of the French stamp from 1953 courtesy of Pierre Courtiade, France.
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