231: The Self-Empowered Woman: Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Dear Followers,

I love sharing stories of unlikely Self-Empowered Women, and I just learned about a remarkably talented woman who is currently being honored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun was born in Paris on April 16th 1755. Her father was a portraitist and a fan painter, and he gave Louise Elisabeth her first childish art lessons because he recognized her early talent (4: Supportive Someone). But when she was twelve years old, her father died (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and her mother married a wealthy jeweler.

By the time she was a teenager, Louise Elisabeth was already painting portraits professionally (2: An Early Sense of Direction) By the time she was in her late teens, Vigee’s portraits were helping to support her family.  But since she didn’t have the necessary license, the authorities shut her down.  To get around this problem—and to escape a stepfather she loathed—she made a marriage of convenience to a painter and prominent art dealer (Juan Baptiste Pierre Le Brun) who wooed her by lending her paintings she could copy, and taking her to Flanders and Holland so she could see works by Reubens and other Dutch masters (8: Turning No Into Yes).

When she was 22, she painted a full-length formal portrait of Marie Antoinette, at the request of the Empress’ mother, and several additional Court commissions followed.  Even though she had essentially been self-taught, she soon became one of the most sought-after portraitists of the day (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

At the start of the French Revolution, she fled France and recreated her successful career among the elite beauties of Berlin, Italy, Russia and Vienna.  She returned to France in 1802, after her name was struck from the list of “enemy émigrés,” and died in Paris at the age of 86 in 1841. She was still creating beautiful portraits into her late ‘60’s (7: Magnificent Obsession), and an impressive collection of her work is now being admired on both sides of the Atlantic.

About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.