The Old Master period in Western Art History was, let’s face it, a sausage fest with women pretty much relegated to the role of artist’s model or mistress. There were, however, a few women artists, one of whom is the subject of this Met showcase. Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) was primarily a portrait artist, but her style and technique rivaled those of her contemporary, Jacques-Louis David. Remarkably, Le Brun was completely self-taught. One of her supporters was Marie Antoinette, whose intervention led to Le Brun’s admission into the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Unfortunately, that same relationship also meant that Le Brun had to flee France with the onset of revolution. Eventually, she returned home, but not before her travels took her to Florence, Naples, Vienna, St. Petersburg and Berlin. During her sojourn, she painted likenesses for members of the royal families of Naples, Russia and Prussia, but even while she was in exile, she managed to exhibit her work in the annual salon in Paris. Her exceptional career is vividly brought bad to life in this retrospective, the first ever accorded the artist.
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Self-portrait, 1790
Photograph: Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence