Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Memoirs of Mme. Vigée-Le Brun (#ccspin)

"I will begin by speaking of my childhood, which is the symbol, so to say, of my whole life, since my love for painting declared itself in my earliest youth."

Elisabeth Vigée was born in Paris in 1755 to Louis Vigée, a provincial portrait painter who encouraged her love of painting. "I made a picture by lamplight of a man with a beard...When my father saw it he went into transports of joy, exclaiming, 'You will be a painter, child, if ever there was one!" 

Unfortunately he died when she was twelve, and her mother remarried a jeweller, who did not encourage her, but did take any money she made as a painter. "I detested the man."

To get out of her hated stepfather's house, she married the art dealer, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, in 1776. Le Brun encouraged her painting, but now her husband took all of her money instead of her stepfather. He was a successful enough dealer--later he was instrumental in making the Louvre into a public museum--but he was also a compulsive gambler, and no amount of money could do much to keep him afloat.

She was, however, starting to succeed in a big way. She painted Marie Antoinette, and the queen liked the portrait, so there were several more, also the king, with or without the children. 

In a few years though, being Marie Antoinette's preferred portrait painter was not particularly a recommendation with the public. She threw a toga party, and there was a rumor going round that it had been financed by the state to the tune of twenty-thousand francs. (She claims she spent fifteen and used a few old bedsheets. Since my idea of a toga party is more Animal House than Trianon, I guess I believe her...)

Self portrait
As the Revolution began to get hot, she decided to leave France. In 1789, the royal family was arrested, and she fled with her daughter (but not her husband) to Italy. It was the beginning of thirteen years of exile. She was abroad ostensibly to study the great masters of painting--and she did--but it was also safer. After Italy, she went to Vienna, to Saint Petersburg, to Moscow, to Berlin. She was commissioned to paint Catherine the Great (and did paint her granddaughters) but Catherine herself died before the portrait was begun. Only in 1802 was she able to safely return to France. She made later trips to England (which she didn't much like) and to Switzerland.

She wrote these memoirs in the later 1830s, when she was in her early 80s, her husband and daughter both dead by then. They're pretty fascinating, though it's true (and occasionally exasperating) that she never met an aristocrat she didn't like. I've seen her paintings in various museums.

The memoir is available on Project Gutenberg, translated by Lionel Strachey, the brother of Lytton. I first learned of its existence from Mudpuddlesoup

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Pictures from Spain

Back from two and a half weeks in Spain. We flew into Madrid, but were mostly in the inland south.


Finally got to visit the Alhambra, which I was prepared to visit two years ago:

Our hero

The Court of the Lions


Vázquez de Molina square and the El Salvador chapel


The Mezquita interior

It's nice to be able to travel again.

I finished my spin book, The Memoirs of Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, and should write about it soon.