The special exhibition Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France is on view at The Met from February 15 through May 15, 2016. This is the first retrospective and only the second exhibition devoted to the artist in modern times, shedding new light on this gifted portraitist. If you are in New York City during its run, this is a must-see show for art lovers, fashion devotees, and fans of la belle France.
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) was the most important woman painter of her time. Balancing innovation with tradition, she created expressive portraits of French royalty and the European aristocracy—especially of her patron, Marie Antoinette—exemplifying success and resourcefulness in an age when women were rarely allowed either.
Many of her graceful female subjects are shown draped in cloaks and shawls of rich red, which Vigée Le Brun rendered with breathtaking skill. In fact, the same wrap can be identified in at least three of her paintings, a large red stole embroidered with Neoclassical palmettes and lyres. It can be seen adorning the gowns of Countess von Bucquoi (painted in 1793) and Princess Yusupova (painted in 1797), and it completely envelops the charming Countess Golovina (right; painted 1797–1800), whom Vigée Le Brun befriended in Russia during her exile from Revolutionary France.
Based on the fan-shaped fronds of the palm tree, the palmette is among the most frequently used decorative elements in classical art of all periods. Ornamental motifs from antiquity enjoyed a lively vogue toward the end of the eighteenth century, stimulated in part by the 1748 discovery of the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii.
In celebration of the exhibition, The Met Store has created the Palmette Border Jacquard Shawl, inspired by the crimson stole painted by Vigée Le Brun. Embrace the luxury of eighteenth-century France with a glamorous touch of red and our other exhibition-related items.
Learn more about the life and work of this remarkable artist in the beautifully illustrated catalogue.