“Don’t be too proud of your gang. O beautiful woman! Your arrogance is ridiculous, and your drawings are all wrong!”
In 1783, this kind of song resonated throughout the streets of Paris, France. The target of the attack was Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, a female court painter. As a beautiful woman with a charming appearance and a popular painter with a huge income, she won the favor of her queen, Marie Antoinette, and even achieved her entry into the French Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the highest honor for a painter, and finally people’s jealousy exploded. It is. “How can a young woman achieve such great success? She must have paid a bribe or used the beauty world.” People whispered.
The difficulties that her ‘mother daughter’ faced were not only the jealousy of the public. The princesses who were picture models were fussy. Her husband was like ‘Wensu’ who spent much more money than he made. As the world was turned upside down by the French Revolution, close friends of the royal family hung on the streets, and the painter himself had to wander all over Europe for 12 years in exile without a single penny. Today, ‘Those People at the Time’ introduces Le Brun’s turbulent life and the world of her works.
‘The Master of Retouching’, walking on a flower path
‘Etienne Bizet’ (1773), painted when the artist was 18 years old. A depiction of his own brother, it is regarded as one of the artist’s finest works of his adolescence. Compared to other adult painters at the time, his technique is excellent. /Collection of the St. Louis Museum of Art
Le Brun is gifted with so many talents. First, drawing skills. Born in 1755 to a family of painters in Paris, France, she drew on books and notebooks whenever she had a chance since her childhood. When she was seven years old, she was told that ‘she was a born painter’, she says. When she was just 18 years old, she started working as a professional painter, painting for money.
‘Self-portrait with a Ribbon’ (1782). /Kimbell Art Museum
It didn’t take long for the name Le Brun to become well-known among Parisian society. In addition to her skills, her beauty was a big help. She knew she was pretty and she took advantage of this. She painted several self-portraits of herself. People who saw her self-portrait say that she was surprised once by the fact that the artist was so pretty and then again by her drawing skills. She was also good-natured. Thanks to her, she was able to relax the model and bring out her natural features and put them on her canvas.
‘Self-portrait in a straw hat with a feather’ (1783). /private collection
The most important thing is that Le Brun’s ‘calibration skills’ were excellent. When you go to a photo studio and take a profile picture, your retouching skills are as important as your shooting skills. The same goes for portraits. rather more. Because it takes a lot of money and time to paint a portrait once. Therefore, it was the basic order of the customers to draw as handsome and beautiful as possible. However, it is not possible to draw completely different from the real thing. It’s difficult to keep that line, but Le Brun did an excellent job of drawing the model naturally and ‘blush’.
A representative customer who fell in love with his skills was Marie Antoinette, who was the Queen of France. Antoinette came from an Austrian Habsburg family that had traditionally had no relations with France. For her mother, Queen Maria Theresa, it is natural for her to be concerned about the well-being of her married daughter. “Dear, she wonders how she is these days. Draw a portrait and send it to me.” “Yes, mother. Please wait a moment.”
But no matter how long she waited, the painting never arrived. It was because Antoinette did not like the ‘retouching skills’ of her painters. Some painters ruthlessly realistically portrayed the flaws in her appearance: her chin and protruding eyes, characteristic of the Habsburgs. On the other hand, a certain artist painted her portrait so badly that even her mother would not recognize her. Antoinette, who had been so upset, finally commissioned her portrait from Le Brun and was satisfied that she “came out so well.” It is said that Maria Theresia, who received it, was also delighted with her result.
‘Marie Antoinette in Court Dress’ (1778). It was featured in ‘600 Years of Habsburg: Masterpieces of Enchantment’, which closed in March. Antoinette did not like her previous paintings of herself, saying “Painters lead me to despair. They are so poor”. Her mother, Queen Maria Theresa, comforted her, saying, “It’s okay if her face doesn’t look like you. She wants to see you in court attire.” It was only after Le Brun’s work was finally completed that Antoinette was satisfied. It was thanks to her ability to exquisitely compensate for the shortcomings unique to her appearance from the Habsburg royal family. /Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
As we talked while drawing portraits, we realized that Antoinette and Le Brun were the same age. She spoke well. The two quickly became close friends, like family. Antoinette personally picked up brushes that Le Brun accidentally dropped on the floor, and the two of them sang together during breaks while painting portraits.
After painting a ‘good-looking’ portrait to the queen’s satisfaction, the price of Le Brun’s paintings skyrocketed. Thanks to the Queen’s ‘Baek’, she was able to easily cross the threshold of the Royal Academy, where she was denied membership just because she was a woman. In 1783, when she was only 28 years of age, she had both her wealth and her honor.
Marie Antoinette with a Rose (1783). /Linda Ann Stuart Resnick Collection
Becoming a ‘Beneficial Single Mom’
Self-portrait with daughter (1786). /Collection of the Louvre Museum
Behind the colorful life, in fact, there were many difficulties. His father, who loved Le Brun very much, died when he was 12 years old, and his stepfather, a man of poor quality, stole most of the money Le Brun earned as a portraitist. Her husband, whom she hastily married to avoid this, was also not a great person. He enjoyed gambling and spent money like water.
Above all, what bothered Le Brun the most was people’s jealousy. “I can’t draw like that well. Rumors such as “It must have been painted by another artist” and “It must have been written in the beauty world” continued to spread. Because Queen Antoinette’s image was so bad for people, her prejudice and criticism were all the more severe. Le Brun collapsed due to her stress as her disgrace escalated.
In the meantime, a great ordeal comes. The French Revolution of 1789 turned the world upside down. Sensing that the atmosphere of the revolution was taking an unusual turn, she and her daughter narrowly escaped France on October 6, 1789, disguised as commoners. And four years later, Queen Antoinette leaves the world on the guillotine. The situation was so urgent.
Self-portrait with daughter (1789). /Collection of the Louvre Museum
I couldn’t afford to take money in the yard where my life was at stake right away. Her husband remained in France, but no economic support could be expected from him, the ‘minus hand’. In an instant , she went from being the best court painter to a ‘wanted, broke single mother’.
‘Super Mom’ revived with a single brush
‘Giovanni Paisiello’ (1791). Le Brun also painted many portraits of men. Paisiello, a famous Italian musician, is depicted in this painting with his mouth half-open and his eyes skyward, gaining inspiration. /Collection of the Versailles Museum
It was a desperate situation, but I had to cheer up when I thought of my daughter. Fortunately, her reputation was widely known even to foreign royalty and nobility. Everywhere Le Brun went, including Italy, portrait commissions poured in, and she quickly became wealthy again. Some called her ‘Mrs. Van Dyke’ or ‘Mrs. Rubens’ for her skill, which put her on a par with the masters of portraiture.
Rome, Naples, Florence, Prague, Berlin, London, even Saint Petersburg and Moscow in Russia… . She toured all over Europe and painted the faces of royalty and nobility. Although the local painters rejected Le Brun as a ‘rolling stone’, Le Brun was treated generously wherever she went, and she was honored with being elected (in 1800) an honorary member of the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts. enjoyed up to She raised her daughter well and even married her in Moscow. Although I didn’t really like her son-in-law.
‘A study of the life of Mrs. Hamilton as Sybilla’ (1792). Based on Greek mythology, he drew a living figure. Her photographic model, Emma Hamilton, was famous in Europe at the time for her affair with British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. /private collection
12 years have passed like that. The situation in France was finally stabilized, and thanks to the pleas of her old colleagues who remained in Paris, she was finally able to return home in 1801.
Upon her return to France, Le Brun lived to be 87 years old. She is said to have lived an elegant life. She couldn’t publish as good a work as she used to because the trend of painting changed and her stamina declined, but she continued to draw. There are over 660 portraits of her throughout her life. In her later years, from 1835 to 1837, she wrote and published three volumes of her memoirs. It is thanks to this that we can take a closer look at her life today. Her will from Le Brun was this. “ Ici , enfin , je repose … .” (Finally, here, resting….)
‘Julie Painted as Flora’ (1799). A mythical portrait of a daughter, Julie was about to get married at the time.
Foreigner portraits from hundreds of years ago, why are they so popular?
Le Brun’s works, which had been forgotten for a while, began to be re-examined in earnest in the late 20th century. It has been getting more and more love lately. A prime example is her large-scale exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York메이저놀이터, USA in 2016. The 600 Years of Habsburg Exhibition, which was held at the National Museum of Korea until last March, also featured a large portrait of Antoinette she drew.
‘Self-portrait’ (1800). /Collection of the Hermitage Museum
Why are the faces of strangers who passed away hundreds of years ago so popular with people around the world? Simply put, because Le Brun’s paintings are beautiful. In terms of form, one could name beauty in its original style, its bold use of color, and its expressive skills in clothing, headdress, and jewellery. However, in addition to this, her paintings are evaluated as containing affection to properly understand a human being, which cannot be expressed only with technique. It is thanks to him that in Le Brun’s work, we can read not only the model’s appearance but also his inner world and the image of the times.
Not everyone who is gifted has the ability to achieve this. She always believed in herself. She continued her efforts with her persistence and sincerity, regardless of the gaze and prejudice around her. Despite the ups and downs of her turbulent life, she was always kind to those around her and never lost her optimism. The reason why Le Brun’s paintings are natural but elegant is the reflection of the artist’s inner self. Thanks to her, she is still considered one of the best portrait painters of the 18th century.
Enjoy Le Brun’s paintings that go well with springtime, and have a happy weekend.
*(Reference) The content of this article is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition catalog ‘Vigee Le Brun’ ( Baillio , Joseph , Katharine BaetjerEtc.), ‘Vigée Le Brun, Painter of Versailles’ written by Pierre de Nolac, who was the director of the Versailles Museum (translated by Jeong Jin-guk, Art Culture), ‘ A Most Successful Woman’ in the New York Review , and the Versailles Museum website. The paintings in this article are mainly selected for works related to the artist’s life. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition catalog is in English, but is open to the public free of charge. It contains all of Vigée Le Brun’s biography, evaluation of her, what she felt as a female artist, and detailed explanations of her major works. I recommend you do it.