1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Anne Elisabeth

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28
Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Anne Elisabeth

VIGÉE-LEBRUN, MARIE-ANNE ELISABETH (1755–1842), French painter, was born in Paris, the daughter of a painter, from whom she received her first instruction, though she benefited more by the advice of Doyen, Greuze, Joseph Vernet and other masters of the period. When only about twenty years of age she had already risen to fame with her portraits of Count Orloff and the duchess of Orleans, her personal charm making her at the same time a favourite in society. In 1776 she married the painter and art-critic J. B. P. Lebrun, and in 1783 her picture of "Peace bringing back Abundance" (now at the Louvre) gained her the membership of the Academy. When the Revolution broke out in 1789 she escaped first to Italy, where she worked at Rome and Naples. At Rome she painted the portraits of Princesses Adelaide and Victoria, and at Naples the "Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante" now in the collection of Mr Tankerville Chamberlayne, and then journeyed to Vienna, Berlin and St Petersburg. She returned to Paris in 1781, but went in the following year to London, where she painted the portraits of Lord Byron and the prince of Wales, and in 1808 to Switzerland. Her numerous journeys, and the vogue she enjoyed wherever she went, account for the numerous portraits from her brush that are to be found in the great collections of many countries. Having returned to France from Switzerland, she lived first at her country house near Marly and then in Paris, where she died at the age of eighty-seven, in 1842, having been widowed for twenty-nine years. She published her own memoirs under the title of Souvenirs (Paris, 1835-37). Among her many sitters was Marie Antoinette, of whom she painted over twenty portraits between 1779 and 1789. A portrait of the artist is in the hall of the painters at the Uffizi, and another at the National Gallery. The Louvre owns two portraits of Mme Lebrun and her daughter, besides five other portraits and an allegorical composition.

A full account of her eventful life is given in the artist's Souvenirs, and in C. Pillet's Mme Vigée-Le Brun (Paris, 1890). The artist's autobiography has been translated by Lionel Strachey, Memoirs of Mme Vigée-Lebrun (New York, 1903), fully illustrated.