Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842)

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun is considered the most important female painter of her time. At an early age, following her father’s example, she began to paint portraits of her contemporaries, revealing a brilliant talent. By 1778, the self-taught painter had become the official portraitist of Queen Marie-Antoinette, and in 1783, under royal protection, she was accepted into the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture – one of few women accorded this honour.

Forced to leave France in 1789, in the wake of the French Revolution, the artist brought new inspiration to the portrait genre as she visited the great capitals of Europe. In Italy, Austria, Russia and Germany until 1802, then in England and Switzerland until 1809, her prestige and reputation continued to grow. Her international career, the distinguished nature of her models, her superb skill and her memoirs created a special aura around the artist for the Romantic generation. Although she has not been completely forgotten today, her place in art history has long been overshadowed, and this exhibition is significant for shining a bright light on this splendid painter. Vigée Le Brun’s work has never before been gathered for a true retrospective – an oversight that makes this exhibition particularly ambitious and rich in discovery.

Tracing Vigée Le Brun’s career by way of an important body of pictorial work and a colourful page of European history, the exhibition has benefited from exceptional loans from the Château de Versailles, the Louvre and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as from major private collections.