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Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Biography >> Art History

Elisabeth Le Brun self portrait of her painting
Self-portrait, 1790
by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Childhood and Early Life

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun was born in Paris, France in 1755. Her father was an artist and her mother a hairdresser. Being a girl in the 1700s, Elisabeth did not receive formal art training, but her father recognized that she was talented. He taught Elisabeth the basics of painting and encouraged her work.

When Elisabeth was twelve years old, her father died. Her mother married a wealthy jeweler who Elisabeth did not like. Elisabeth continued to pursue art, however, and soon became a sought after artist in the city of Paris.

Painting Portraits

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun is most famous for her portraits of famous people. Even as a teenager, many people in Paris hired her to paint their portrait.

Elisabeth was a bit of a rebel for the times. At the age of nineteen, she got into trouble for painting without a license. Fortunately, she had connections and was able to become a member of the Art Academie, which was rare for a woman at the time. She also was criticized for painting a self-portrait where she was smiling with her mouth slightly open and showing her teeth (See below). While this might seem silly today, it was a big deal at the time.

Self-Portrait with Her Daughter Julie, 1786
by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
(click picture for larger view)
Marie Antoinette

Elisabeth's art career really took off when she was noticed by the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette liked Elisabeth's portraits and hired Elisabeth to paint several portraits of Marie and her family. Some of these portraits are the most recognized paintings and images of Marie Antoinette we have today.

Marie Antoinette standing in dress
Queen Marie Antoinette, 1778
by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
(click picture for larger view)
The French Revolution

When the French Revolution began in 1789, Elisabeth feared for her life because of her close association with the Queen (Marie Antoinette would later be executed by guillotine). Elisabeth left France and lived in various other countries over the next twelve years.

Living in Other Countries

Elisabeth first moved to Italy where she painted portraits for Italian nobles. It was during this time that she painted her personal favorite painting, Life Study of Lady Hamilton as the Cumaean Sybil.

Life Study of Lady Hamilton as the Cumaean Sybil
Life Study of Lady Hamilton as the Cumaean Sybil, 1792
by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
(click picture for larger view)
Later, Elisabeth lived in Austria and Russia. While in Russia she painted members of the family of Catherine the Great. She was supposed to paint Catherine the Great, but Catherine died before the painting was started.

Return to France

Elisabeth was finally able to return to France in 1802. Her influential husband worked with French authorities to get her name removed from a list of counter-revolutionaries. Elisabeth continued to paint and travel around Europe for the rest of her life.


Today, Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun is known as one of the great portrait artists in French history. She is particularly famous for her portraits of Marie Antoinette. Her paintings are displayed throughout many of the world's most prestigious museums including the National Gallery in London, The Met in New York City, and the Palace of Versailles in France.

Interesting Facts About Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun More examples of Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun's Art:

Portrait Of The Artists Brother
(Click to see larger version)

Self-portrait in a Straw Hat
(Click to see larger version)

Marie Antoinette with Children
(Click to see larger version)


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