Off with her fabulous head...

Marie Antoinette and Her Children by Madam Louise Le Brun
French // Rococo
Painted with oil paints on a 2.15 x 2.75 m canvas.

Well it seems that Madam Louise Le Brun was one bad-assed determined painter lady… Coming from humble beginnings she made such a name for herself that she became the offical portraiture artist of the French royal family and a favourite of Marie-Antoinette’s.

Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat - Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Madam Le Brun came to Royal Court after her art-dealer husband had gambled away her earnings and it was rumoured that she used every avenue possible to get ahead even possibly carrying on a long-standing affair with the Finance Minister of France. I guess if you’re going to have an affair, it may as well be with the person who has the keys to the Royal Treasury!

It was about this time, however, that Lebrun was given the almighty task of trying to humanise the promiscuous Marie-Antoinette and portray to the French people that she was actually a devoted wife and mother. It was widely rumoured that none of the children were actually fathered by the King, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was the epitome of excess; she loved the high life and as we know it was this extravagance and mindset that would eventually be her undoing. Le Brun would paint a total of 30 portraits for Marie-Antoinette and the royal family.. so it seems she definitely earned her keep!

In this painting; Marie-Antoinette is pictured with her 3 children. The prince, Louis-Joseph, brings our attention to an empty cradle and to the child that Marie-Antoinette had lost in infancy… this was hopefully to garner sympathy and respect for the Queen that she too – like so many mothers at the time – knew the sorrow of losing a child. The princess, Marie Therese Charlotte, looks adoringly at her mother and the two boys are adorned with the colours of the French Royal family. It was a great PR stunt by all involved – although we all know that the public didn’t really buy into the story and the rest, as they say, is history.

Some of the portraits Vigee LeBrun painted of Marie Antoinette. Its reported she painting approx 30 offical portraits of the young Queen.

When the Revolution broke out in 1789 – Lebrun, with her daughter Julie, fled France disguised as a working woman and exiled herself in Italy & Russia where she gained popularity by painting a number of important portraitures and immersing herself into the society of each country. She was vigorously condemned in France though and hailed a “Royal Sympathiser” for her association with Marie Antoinette & Versailles before the Revolution. It was finally in 1802 that she regained her citizenship and was allowed to return to her homeland.

I don’t know about you – but I think she’s a fascinating woman – she supported herself and her daughter (and most of the men in her life) financially and lived with such vigour that she definitely deserves the attention she received as a painter and as a bad-ass modern woman. She’s also a pretty damned fine artist.


Madam LeBrun - Self Portrait with daughter Julie

“I will not attempt to describe my feelings at setting foot on the soil of France, from which I had been absent twelve years. I was stirred by terror, grief and joy in turn. I mourned the friends who had died on the scaffold; but I was to see those again who still lived.”

― Elizabeth Vigee le Brun, Quote from her Diary