Flowers and gutsy women are a combination Fleurs de Villes can never resist. An unforgettable example reaches back to 1783 with one of the most famous paintings of Marie Antoinette showing off her signature bloom, a pink cabbage rose. But it’s not the coquettish queen who captured our attention, but her official court painter, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.
One of the few recognized female painters of her time, Vigée Le Brun fought for credibility and became the only female court painter to a French Queen. A popular “it girl” of her day, she was largely self-taught and the same age as her polarizing patroness. Her most famous portrait, Marie Antoinette with a Rose, was a hasty fix of an earlier portrait from the same year.
Le Brun’s first take was titled Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress (1783) – a softer informal vision of the Queen in a muslin dress and country hat – a sweet youthful style Marie Antoinette popularized. Neither anticipated its unthinkable scandal and the painting was tossed out of the Salon. Vigée Le Brun quickly painted another in the same pose but with the monarch trussed up, stiffer, and more conventional to meet the persnickety demands of the Salon board who sniffed that the unpopular monarch was wearing her skivvies.
Vigée Le Brun painted more than 30 portraits of the Queen and her children. Unlike her patroness, she escaped the French Revolution and continued painting celebrities (nobility, mistresses and actors) and penned a best-selling memoir. Today, she’s finally recognized as one of the finest portrait painters of her generation and celebrated for her accomplishments as an independent single mother who was also a speedy problem solver.