Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun exhibition

Yesterday Roger and I and a friend saw the Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. Vigee Le Brun was born in France in 1755 and became the most important woman painter of the late 1700s. Self-taught, she became the portraitist of Queen Marie Antoinette. She left France during the Revolution of 1789 and went to Italy, then to Russia, where she painted portraits of the rich and famous. She eventually returned to France, where she died in 1842.

Although I am certainly not an art historian, I've learned a little over the years about great painters of the past, and in none of the courses I've taken was Vigee Le Brun ever mentioned. It's a pity how women's achievements have been erased from official history until recently.  The ninety paintings are beautiful and each makes you feel that you are glimpsing the unique personality of the sitter.  And, as the description on the National Gallery website says, "This must-see exhibition demonstrates both Vigee Le Brun's immense talent and her extraordinary ability to carve out a significant career in a man's world."

We also enjoyed a dress-up aspect of the exhibition. In a gallery decorated like Marie Antoinette's bedroom, a guide talked about the fashions of the period, and asked for a volunteer to put on the layers of clothing that constituted proper attire in which to appear at the royal court.  The young woman who volunteered was completely transformed - except for her sneakers, which showed below her skirts.

For more information visit the National Gallery of Canada website.  The exhibition is on until September 11th. I would like to go again.