Urgent Museum Notice

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun

Wearing a white, gold-trimmed head wrap and matching scarf, a light-skinned woman looks at the viewer, shown in a three-quarter pose against a dark backdrop in a portrait painting. Tousled curls of brown hair rest on her forehead and shoulders.

Charles Bianchini, Portrait of Vigée-LeBrun (after Vigée-LeBrun’s 1789 self-portrait), n.d.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

1755–1842

At the age of 15, Vigée-LeBrun was earning enough money from her portrait painting to support herself, her widowed mother, and her younger brother. Trained by her father, the portraitist Louis Vigée, she joined Paris’s Academy of Saint Luke at 19. Two years later, she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre LeBrun, a painter and art dealer who helped her gain valuable access to the art world.

Vigée-LeBrun’s talent helped her please even the most demanding sitters. She soon came to the attention of the French queen, who in 1783 appointed her a member of Paris’s powerful Royal Academy. As one of only four female academicians, Vigée-LeBrun enjoyed a high artistic, social, and political profile. Her profile grew too high, for once the French Revolution came, she was forced to flee the country with her nine-year-old daughter.

During the next 12 years the artist was commissioned to create portraits of the most celebrated residents of Rome, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Berlin. After brief, highly successful stays in England and Switzerland, Vigée-LeBrun returned to France for good in 1809. She divided the last 33 years of her life between her Paris residence, where she held glittering salons, and her country house at Louveciennes. Scholars estimate that Vigée-LeBrun produced more than 600 paintings. Her memoirs, originally published in 1835–37, have been translated and reprinted numerous times.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun
  • Birth

    Paris, 1755
  • Death

    Paris, 1842
  • Phonetic Spelling

    ay-lee-sah-beht loo-eez vee-zhay-leh-bruh(n)

Works by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun