Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun 

(b. 1755-d. 1842)

Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was one of the most famous painters during her time.  During her eighty seven-year life, which spanned from 1755-1842, she created well over 600 pieces of artwork.  In a time period where it was uncommon to be a female artist, Marie-Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun put her best effort forth to overcome this adversity.  Women painters were not recognized nearly as much as men painters, but Vigée-Lebrun's artwork had its own uniqueness that distinguished her artwork apart from others.  She not only had to overcome the adversity of being a woman, but also had to escape the turmoil of the French Revolution.  These were among some of the constant controversies she endured throughout her life.

Her father, who was also an artist, provided lessons for her in her youth, but she mostly self-taught herself how to be an artist.  At the age of fifteen, Vigée-Lebrun had demonstrated such skill that she was able to provide support for herself, her widowed mother, and brother.  At the age of twenty her mother pushed her into marrying their landlord, Jean Baptise Pierre Lebrun.  He was a prestige art dealer and artist that she believed influenced most of her paintings.  

Aside from being influenced by her husband, she was blessed naturally with an exceptional talent to please people with her art, especially famous people such as Queen Marie Antoinette.  She was so talented that in 1778, she was summoned to Versailles to become the official painter to Queen Marie Antoinette.  Because they were the same age, they became friends and confidants.  Throughout the next ten years, Vigée-Lebrun painted the Queen more than thirty times.  In 1783, she was admitted to the French Academy of Arts, which was a great accomplishment because most women at the time were denied entry into such programs.  

Several years later, after 1789, in the turmoil of the French Revolution, Vigée-Lebrun became in danger.  Because she was in close ties with the court, she had to flee the country.  She fled the country traveling to such places as Vienna, Prague, Dresden, London, and St. Petersburg.  While traveling around Europe in exile, she became a member of the Academies of Rome, Florence, Bologna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin.  At these places, she painted heads of state and other aristocrats to help support herself and her family.  She continued supporting her family for twelve years, and in 1801, she moved back to Paris.  However, because she disliked Parisian social life under Napoleon, she left for London where she painted pictures of the court and Lord Byron.  She moved yet again to Switzerland, but did not stay long, and returned to her home of Paris, where she painted until her death in 1842.

Vigée-Lebrun's independence is one of the main reasons that many people admire her.  She is considered a role model, especially to female artists, because of her wide recognition of skills and gained admittance to academies that were closed to her sex.  Her plethora of work ranges from history paintings to landscapes.  But, the majority of her work were beautifully colored portraits of the most prominent aristocrats and royalty.  Her unique and exceptional talent made her one of the most sought out painters of her time.  She was blessed with a natural ability that people adored, even centuries later.

Annotated Bibliography

Baillio, Joseph.  Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755-1842.  University of Washington Press, 1982.
This book is an outstanding detailed account of Vigée-Lebrun's personal life.  It is good for anyone who is interested in learning about things such as her family life and relationship with Queen Marie Antoinette.  It goes into the hardships she endured in her youth as well as being one of the most famous prestigious female painters of her time.  It also contains information on how she survived the exile and what became of her after the turmoil of the French Revolution.  This book is recommended for anyone interested in learning about the life of Vigée-Lebrun.

Goodden, Angelica.  The Sweetness of Life:  A Biography of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.  London: Andre Deutsch Ltd., 1997.
This biography is an essential to any person interested in learning about the life of Vigée-Lebrun.  This narration follows the life of the most internationally prominent woman portrait painter of her time.  Goodden  received her degree from Oxford University, and she is also the author of works on French drama and literature.  Through an objective point of view, Goodden balances her research by describing not only her personal life, but the political life Vigée-Lebrun was a part of as well.  This is one of the most recent biographies of Vigée-Lebrun recommended because it is one of the most up to date narratives of her life.  

Kelly, Kevin J.  "Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun."  <ée/Vigée.htm>  (Accessed 28 November 2005).
This is a great website because it was originally done in French, but it can be translated to English as well.  It is recommended for anyone who is interested in learning the main points in her life.  It briefly describes her childhood and training as a young female artist.  It then goes on to describe her personal relations with her husband, working for the queen, and escaping exile in France.  While some translations are slightly altered, it can still be easily followed when one is interested in learning about the life of Vigée-Lebrun.

Lane, Jim.  "Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun."  <>  (Accessed 28 November 2005).
This website contains significant information of Vigée-Lebrun.  It is provided and researched by Jim Lane who received his degree from Ohio University.  His findings displayed on the website vividly highlight why Vigée-Lebrun was such an influential person, not only during her time, but even up until now.  This website is especially recommended because it shows the legacy Vigée-Lebrun left behind.  This is exemplified through a statement saying that a male artist noted when Vigée-Lebrun's work was compared along side his own work, that her portrait appeared to had been done by a man, while his looked done by a woman.  She took this as one of the greatest compliments, and this shows the fact that her timeless artwork truly overcame the contradiction of her gender during the time she lived.

"Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun."  ABC Gallery.  <éelebrun/Vigeelebrun.html>  (Accessed 28 November 2005).
This site is a good site to gain some historical background in the life of Vigée-Lebrun.  While it does not contain a plethora of information about the artist, it does contain a lot of her paintings.  This site is constantly updated and contains information on many artists.  It is also recommended to anyone who only needs the highlights of Vigée-Lebrun's life.  

MacFall, Haldane.  Vigée Le Brun: Masterpieces in Colour.  London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, Ltd, 1922.
This book is a recommended book for anyone who would like a short read on Vigée-Lebrun's life.  It includes the beginning of her life and this describes things such as receiving art lessons from her father at a young age.  It also includes chapters on her marriage, motherhood, and job working for Marie Antoinette.  The book closes with discussing why she went on an exile and the eventual happenings of Vigée-Lebrun.  It also contains some of her captivating artwork for anyone who is interested in seeing her classic paintings.

May, Gita.  Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun.  The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution. Yale University Press, 2005.
This book is a well-written and contains an introduction to the life, times, and art of Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun.  The author of the book, Gita May, has such an enthusiasm for this subject that it provides a compelling narrative and brings into sharper focus the remarkable energy and ambition of one of the most sought out artist during her time.  May tells the story of Vigée-Lebrun, who was a monarchist in her political views but, in her personal life, a revolutionary.  This is a great book for anyone interested in the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, or French art and history. 

Sheriff, Mary D.  The Exceptional Woman: Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art. Chicago: Chicago Press, 1997.
In The Exceptional Woman, Mary D. Sheriff uses Vigée-Lebrun's career to explore the contradictory position of female painters in the moral, philosophical, professional, and medical debates about women in eighteenth-century France.  Sheriff pays particular attention to painted and textual self-portraits.  Sheriff also shows how Vigée-Lebrun's images and memoirs undermined the assumptions about women and the confining restraints imposed on women.  Engaging  modern feminism and art criticism, Sheriff's interpretations of Vigée-Lebrun's paintings challenge us to rethink the work and the world of this controversial woman artist.

Strachey, Lionel and Russell, John.  Memoirs of Madame Vigée-Lebrun.  George Braziller, 1989.
Unfortunately, this is a reprint of the 1903 translated version of Vigée Lebrun's Souvenirs de Madame Vigée Le Brun.  This first-hand account, written later in life, appeared in three volumes.  The first in volume was written in 1835, and the others were written in 1837.  In the content, it displays that Lebrun was a fine artist primarily known as painter to Marie Antoinette and for having been elected to the French Academy.  Her Souvenirs was reprinted, in two volumes, in 1869.  Because the reprint and translation was not the best one for an English audience, in 1989 Strachey and Russell came out with this book that was one volume that included more illustrations than the originals. 

"The Art of Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun."  Bad Avenue Productions.  Tucson, 2005.    <>  (Accessed 19 December 2005).
This website is one of the best websites on the internet providing information about Vigée-Lebrun.  It includes a listing of a plethora of books that were created towards learning about her.  Not only does it include the listing, but for several of the books, you can physically view them on the internet.  All of the content from the books has been transferred over making it extremely easy to access the life of Vigée-Lebrun.  Their is also a wide range of biographical information on her that is provided in detail on this site that can be accessed through the different links.  And, if someone is interested in viewing the artwork of her then they need look no further then this website.  This website has a variety of galleries that include her artwork.  This website is above and beyond in depth and is highly recommended to anyone interested in the life of Vigée-Lebrun.


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