Portrait of Mrs. Vigée-Lebrun and her daughter Julie (1789)



The painting “Maternal tenderness” aroused many emotions.

Many feminists, Simone de Beauvoir in the lead, made the pout in front of this painting. For art historians, it is exceptional, because it creates a prototype: no one had thus made the feelings uniting a mother and daughter.

 The portrait artist is one of the first to value children and the maternal bond.

On this painting, one can see the artist surrounding a protective gesture his daughter Julie, sitting on her knees. The sweetness that emerges from this scene is accentuated by the frank and happy glances of the two characters. The portrait artist even goes so far as to smile and reveal her teeth, which is quite rare in painting at that time, since the dentists did not run the streets.

She holds from her studies, the technique of treatment of the light but also the importance of the staging especially with the clothes that must showcase the beauty of the model.

According to Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun The artist must not boast of being able to achieve perfection. It is in his humility that his art is utterly expressed. With regard to the portraits, she considers that the installation of the model is very important and guarantees the success of the painting. The model must be seated, in height with respect to the artist who must take enough recoil to see it as a whole and correct the defects.

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Quick biography

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun was born in Paris in 1755 by a father Pastellist and a mother hairdresser. At 12 years old, she decides on the advice of her father that she will be a painter! She practises portrait art at the age of 15 and becomes a professional. She married Jean-Baptiste Pierre Lebrun in 1776 and gave birth to his daughter Julie in 1780.

Elisabeth’s first teacher was her father. In 1770, she made the acquaintance of Joseph Vernet, a famous artist throughout Europe. He is one of the most famous painters in Paris, his councils are authoritative, and he will not fail to lavish it. I have constantly followed his opinions;” “For I have never had a master proper,” she wrote in her memoirs.

She received her first order from the court of the Count of Provence, the brother of the King and, on November 30, 1776, Elisabeth Vigée le Brun was admitted to work for the Court of Louis XVI. In 1778, she became the Queen’s official painter and was therefore called to make the first portrait of Queen Marie-Antoinette by nature.

She is admitted to the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1783. At the fall of the monarchy in 1789, she left to live in Austria, then in St. Petersburg from 1795 where she remained for a few years. In 1800 she regained her French citizenship.

After several stays in Switzerland, Germany and England, she returned to France and painted for the aristocracy and the imperial family.

After the death of his daughter in 1819, she takes her niece under her wing to whom she transforms her knowledge. In 1835, she published her memories retracing her life as a free and emancipated woman. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun leaves 600 portraits and 200 landscapes.

Memories: A Life

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