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A spotlight on outstanding women artists and their works in the Royal Collection

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842)

Charles-Alexandre de Calonne (1734-1802) Signed and dated 1784

RCIN 406988

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This is a copy of Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s self-portrait, commissioned in 1789 (while she was in Florence), for the collection of artists’ self-portraits in the Galleria degli Uffizi. The improvised white turban partially covering her h

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842) ©

Taught initially by her father, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun earned an international reputation for her stylish portrayals of European royalty and aristocratic society. She was one of very few women admitted to the prestigious Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris and was allowed to showcase her work at the Salon, France’s premier art exhibition. Despite this, she continued to be barred from attending life-drawing classes. A prolific portraitist, she enjoyed the patronage of numerous noblewomen including Marie-Antoinette. In later life she wrote and published her Memoirs.

Here, Vigée-Lebrun emphasises the nobility and status of her sitter, finance minister to Louis XVI, through his dress and honours, and by the letter he holds, addressed to the King. The background is formal, yet the pose, as if disturbed whilst working, appears informal. Contemporary viewers were surprised by the veracity and vitality of the picture. However, the inclusion of powder that has fallen from Calonne's wig onto his shoulders adds a powerful humanity, a quality also present in many of the artist’s female portraits.