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Portraits Inspired by Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

Portraits Inspired by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

1755-1842 France

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun developed into one of the leading artists in all of Europe, able to command higher prices for her portraits than any other artist of her time. She was the daughter of a French pastel portraitist, and wig and hairdresser mother. The young Elisabeth was sent away to a convent for schooling at the age of five and returned six years later to live with her family. Her father recognized the young child's talent and began her artistic training in earnest upon her return from the convent. In her published memoirs, Souvenirs, she describes how she was attracted to drawing from a very early age. "I scrawled on everything, my copy-books, and even those of my schoolmates had their margins crammed with tiny drawings of heads and profiles." Her father, Louis Vigée, encouraged her artistic efforts, allowing her free reign of his studio and materials. To supplement this lack of formal artistic training, Vigée Le Brun would often visit the Louvre (then the site of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) to study the Old Masters, the state-sanctioned Salon art exhibitions, and also the royal art collection. There, she sketched from plaster casts and copied works by the Italian and Flemish masters on view, later noting her particular admiration for Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Raphael.



However, by the time Elisabeth was 12, her father died, leaving the family both emotionally devastated and financially vulnerable. Despite being young and with no formal training, she began taking painting commissions that helped her to support the family. Everything changed in 1778 when she was commissioned to paint her first portrait of the young Queen Marie Antoinette. From that point, Vigée Le Brun was the queen's favorite portraitist, creating over 30 portraits of her and of the family. She found ways to integrate notions of the past, such as in adopting the attire of antiquity, into her portraiture. What first caused scandal, however, soon became style, as the pleasing naturalism and relaxed manner of Vigée Le Brun's portraits became immensely popular among the elite and trademark of the artist's distinctive style.

French culture was widely influential in Europe during the 18th century. Whereas her royalist position would put Vigée Le Brun's life in danger in revolutionary France, it was an asset to the artist abroad. Madame Le Brun was an embodiment of French aristocratic culture, which remained a key trait of her style and success in her period of self-imposed exile during the French Revolution. She was in great demand and produced over 800 paintings with a long list of royal patrons in Italy, Austria and the Russian court of Catherine the Great where she spent six years.






We were inspired by Le Brun and also the trend of contemporary artists and their unique

take on classical portraits. The class enthusiastically created mixed media

collages using paint, markers and paper. Enjoy!


Abernethy Class










Tabor Class



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 Week One: Cave Paintings

It has been an eventful week in our Art Literacy class. We have been all around the world.  I would like to thank all of my wonderful students for their great efforts. We began with the story of the discovery of the discovery of cave paintings in Lascaux,  France  and also looked at images from  Spain , where the oldest known cave paintings have been found,  in the cave called El Castillo. The prehistoric dots and crimson hand stencils are now the world's oldest known cave art that dates more than 40,800 years old.

© Serene Greene- Art Literacy Academy
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