Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun was a French painter from the late 18th century. She became highly respected during her lifetime, even into a male-dominated and often unforgiving environment for female artists at the time. Her artwork is often considered an amalgamation of Rococo subjects executed in a Neoclassical manner.
Elisabeth Louise Vigee was born in 1755, in Paris, France. She was the daughter of Louis Vigee, a fan painter and portraitist, who studied at the Academie de Sait-Luc and also gave his daughter her earliest artistic instructions. At age 5, Vigee was sent to a convent, where she remained until her eleven years of age.
Her father died in 1767. Her mother remarried in the following year with a rich man that she came to loathe, soon, the family moved to an expensive house near the grand Royal Palace. However, this period was also very prolific, as she was receiving advice from Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Gabriel Francois Doyen, and the highly fashionable Joseph Vernet. These influences are quite evident in her portrait of her younger brother Etienne, which she executed with only about 18 years old.
Elisabeth was already painting portraits professionally in her early teens. However, her studio was shut-down because she was practicing without a license. Following her father's steps, Elisabeth then ingressed at the Academia de Saint-Luc, where the artist exhibited her artwork without the institution's knowledge. She became an academy member in 1774.
Elisabeth married in 1776, with Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, a wealthy art dealer, and painter. The couple lived at the Hotel de Lubert, where she began to hold her exhibitions. This, allied with her husband's many acquaintances, made possible to Elisabeth meet several very distinguished figures that would later become clients.
In 1780, Elisabeth gave birth to her daughter Jeanne Lucie Louise, also called Brunette by her mother. She is present in several of Elisabeth’s compositions since she often posed as a model for her mother. While traveling with her husband through the Netherlands and Flanders, she came in contact with the artworks by the Flemish masters, which inspired her to approach new techniques. These influences are noticeable in her Madame Perregaux, and The Comte d'Espagnac.
As her career developed, and her work became more fashionable, Elisabeth was granted patronage from Queen Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the French Revolution. She was often perceived as the official portraitist for the Queen, completing more than thirty paintings of the Queen and her family. In 1783, Elisabeth became an Academie Royale de Peinture et de sculpture, being one of only 15 female artists to be granted membership in a timespan of 45 years.
Upon the eclosion of the French Revolution, following the arrest of the Royal Family, Elisabeth fled with her daughter, fearing for their lives. They remained exiled for twelve years. However, she did not stop her production, painting in Italy, Russia, Austria, and Germany. She returned to France after being removed from the counter-revolutionary emigres' list.
Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun died on March 1842, at 86 years of age.