The first art museum I ever visited was the Columbus Museum of Art.  My parents brought me there as a kid because I loved to draw and was always checking out art books from the local library.  That visit was the first time I saw this painting, and I was mesmerized (I mean, look at her.  Don’t you just want to be her?).  It’s Rococo-Neoclassical hybrid excellence.

Varvara Ivanovna Ladomirsky, 1800
 I didn’t know who Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun was at the time, nor did I probably even look at the artist’s name.  But I remember the painting.  Actually, this painting and one other work (a hanging textile piece with metallic threads) are the only individual works that I remember from that visit.  In fourth grade I encountered Vigee-Lebrun again when a poster of her Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat hung in the art classroom.  I didn’t make the connection between the two works at the time, but I was certainly captivated by both.
Years later, when I moved to Columbus for undergrad, the painting was still there.  It was in a room hung salon style and was placed a little too high for optimal viewing (I recently visited the CMA, and not only is the painting still on display, but thankfully in a new room at a much better eye level).  It was around this time that I started to have a real fascination with Marie Antoinette, the Rococo, and ultimately Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.  Her portraits of women always had the same draw for me as fashion magazine models- a little too perfect, verging on unreal, and everyone kind of looks the same- yet these women seemed more comfortable and more fun.  It was fantasy.  And then there was Vigee-Lebrun’s life.  She threw elaborate infamous parties, was portraitist and friend of the queen, and she survived and thrived after the French Revolution (and that's not even mentioning the obvious- she was a successful female artist in the eighteenth century).  She's pretty badass. 

Hats, anyone?
Last summer I visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, and there I saw the holy grail of Vigee-Lebrun paintings (if there were multiple holy grails, because there are a few others I would rank up there with it, but I have yet to see).  This bad boy:

My friends still tease me about my reaction upon seeing this painting.  I think it was somewhere along the lines of “holy f***ing shit.”  Oh yeah.  It’s huge, it’s Marie Antoinette, it’s by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.  What more could you want?

images from here and here

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