RCBA - Vigee-LeBrun

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader got to thinking about art the other day while writing his Bond Girl post. Only, his mind wandered from the purient to the pure. Well, perhaps not to the pure, but certainly to “real” art.

Recently a friend of your Maximum Leader’s asked him the following question: “If you could have any work out of the National Gallery in Washington DC for your personal collection, which would you choose?”

Your Maximum Leader is very familiar with the public collection of the National Gallery in DC. He’s been visiting it since he was a young villain-in-training. And since he was young a particular portrait has stuck in his consciousness as his favorite. Surprisingly, it is not Ginevra Di Benci by Leonardo (which, if he remembers correctly, is the only Leonardo painting on permenent display in North America) or one of a number of excellent Rembrants, or even one of the Titians in the collection. (Doge Andrea Gritti is the best.) And as partial as your Maximum Leader is to El Greco (and he is partial to El Greco), it is not a Greco…

It would be “The Marquise de Pezé and the Marquise de Rouget with her sons” by Elizabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun.

Your Maxium Leader would wager you that you’ve never heard of the painting, or the artist. (Well… He takes that back. The readers of this site, to the extent that he’s gotten to know some of you, are a pretty smart set. So perhaps some of you have knowledge of Madame Vigée-LeBrun or the portrait specifically.) Because most of you probably are unfamiliar with it here is the painting.

Marquise de Peze and Marquise de Rouget
(You can clicky on the image to embiggen it…)

Your Maximum Leader couldn’t tell you why exactly. But this painting has been his favorite for many years. If his memory serves him, he first took note of it sometime in high school. Probably early high school. He was struck by the light playing off the Marquise de Pezé’s dress. He was also captivated by the Marquise de Rouget’s younger son looking out at you. Since then he has studied the painting many times. He’s shown it to friends and judged their reactions to it. (A sure sign that things weren’t going to work out with a girlfriend was when they didn’t really stop to study the painting at all - but instead looked longingly at your Maximum Leader…) When he took Villainette #1 through the National Gallery earlier this year, he pointed out the painting. Villainette #1 commented that it was ‘very big,’ ‘pretty,’ and ‘probably took a lot of time.’ (All accurate comments coming from a somewhat bored 8 year old girl. She was anxiously awaiting lunch at Clyde’s.)

It is really a pitty that the image your Maximum Leader has reproduced here is so low quality. The painting is not as dark as it would seem to be here. If you get a chance to go to the National Gallery you should visit it.*

There is only one other painting in the National Gallery of Art by Vigée-LeBrun. To be honest, the “Portrait of a Lady” doesn’t really thrill your Maximum Leader. And speaking very honestly, other than these two paintings, your Maximum Leader - normally a curious person about things that interest him - never thought to learn more about Elizabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun. He also doesn’t believe that he has ever seen another one of her paintings. (NB: There is a portrait of Marie Antoinette in the National Gallery of Art that is attributed to Vigée-LeBrun. But since it is only an attribution, your Maximum Leader figures there is some issue of provenance to contend with. Thus he isn’t really including it. But the painting is quite good. You can see it here.)

Well… Until today. When he was struck to write this piece, he decided to look up Madame Vigée-LeBrun on ye olde interweb. While reading over various mentions of her, he found a few self-portraits. Of those that he’s found this is his favorite.

Self Portrait of Elizabeth Vigee-LeBrun
(Like the other one, you can clicky to embiggen… And your Maximum Leader will opine for you all that Madame Vigée-LeBrun was quite a dish.)

It was on a link to a site (improbably named batguano.com) that your Maximum Leader first learned anything about Vigée-LeBrun. Well, anything beyond the years of her birth and death - which were displayed on the painting in the National Gallery. She lived a fascinating life. According to short biography of Vigée LeBrun by one Rich Carson, she didn’t apprentice under any other painter, she became friends with Marie Antoinette, was admitted to the Salon, fled the Revolution, eventually returned to France, and completed her memoirs shortly before her 1842 death.

If you would like to see moe of Vigée-LeBrun’s work you can peruse the extensive collection of images on the batguano site. (Be careful of that link - lots of images to load…) Or you could go to the Web Gallery of Art and see their collection. (Which generally has better quality images.) You could also visit the National Gallery of Art site to see their pages on her work.

Carry on.

* - Unless they’ve moved the painting here are the directions. Enter the Gallery from the Mall Side doors. When you enter the Rotunda, turn right at the fountain of Mercury and go to the second gallery on the right. As you turn into the gallery you will see a large portrait of Napoleon by David. Look to your left. There will be an opening in the same wall as the Napoleon portrait. Go through that opening and into the next gallery. The painting is on the wall to your left as you pass into the gallery.

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