Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun

From Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Souvenirs of Madame Vigée-Lebrun

It was in the year 1779, my dear friend, that I painted the Queen's portrait for the first time; she was then in all the brilliance of her youth and beauty. . . .

At the first sitting, the Queen's imposing bearing intimidated me extremely, but Her Majesty spoke to me so kindly that her charm soon dissipated this impression. It was then that I painted her with a large basket, dressed in a satin robe and holding a rose in her hand. This portrait was intended for her brother, the Emperor Joseph II. The Queen ordered two copies of it, one for the Empress of Russia, the other for her apartments at Versailles or Fontainebleau. . . .

As soon as Her Majesty heard that I had a pretty voice, she rarely gave me a sitting without making me sing several of Grétry's duets with her, for she was very fond of music, although her voice was not always in tune. As for her conversation, it would be difficult to describe its affability and charm. I do not believe that Queen Marie Antoinette ever allowed an occasion to pass by without saying something pleasant to those who had the honor of approaching her, and the kindness which she always showed me is one of my most delightful memories.

One day it happened that I missed a sitting that was scheduled with her because I was well along in my second pregnancy and suddenly felt ill. The next day I hurried to Versailles to make my apologies. The Queen was not expecting me, and had called for her carriage, which was the first thing I saw when I entered the palace courtyard. All the same I went up and spoke to the gentlemen-in-waiting. One of them, M. Campan, received me very coldly and stiffly and said angrily in his stentorian voice, "It was yesterday, Madame, that Her Majesty expected you, and of course she is going for a drive and of course she will not give you a sitting." When I replied that I came merely to receive Her Majesty's orders for another day, he went to find the Queen, who immediately called me into her sitting room. She was finishing her toilette and held a book in her hand and was going over Madame Royale's lessons. My heart beat very fast, for I was as fearful as I was in the wrong. The Queen turned and said kindly, "I waited for you all yesterday morning, what happened to you?" "Alas! Madam," I replied, "I was so ill that I was unable to attend Your Majesty's commands. I have come today to receive them and will leave directly." "No! no! Do not leave," she replied. "I will not let you make your journey for nothing." She dismissed her carriage and gave me a sitting. I remember that in my eagerness to make amends for her goodness, I grabbed my box of colours so quickly that I upset them all; my brushes and paints fell to the floor, and I stooped down to collect them. "Let them alone, let them alone," said the Queen, "you are not in a condition to stoop." And not heeding what I said, she bent down and picked everything up herself. . . .


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