From 29 January 2016 to 22 May 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts will exhibit Salon Style: French Portraits from the Collection. Salon Style features Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun (1755-1842), a remarkable woman portraitist whose work was allowed into the male-dominated Salon of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris on the order of King Louis XVI (1754-1793). Vigée-LeBrun and other women artists at the time operated under cultural pressures that relegated women to the private sphere, so women often struggled for recognition in public forums such as the Salon.
One of the most prestigious places for public art exhibition in eighteenth-century France, the Salon had a competitive admissions process. Artists who submitted their work to the Salon were required to be members of the Academy. Applicants to the Salon also needed connections within the Academy—a contemporary member had to present the applicant’s work for approval by the other academicians. The process was especially difficult for women, who often did not have the privilege of the same level of artistic training enjoyed by their male peers. Additionally, the Academy granted membership to only four women at a time. In 1783, Vigée-LeBrun became the fourth and final woman member, joining portraitist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), still-life painter Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818), and miniaturist Marie-Thérèse Reboul Vien (1728-1805).
Vigée-LeBrun was a prolific painter, creating over 600 portraits and 200 landscapes in her lifetime. Trained by her father, Louis Vigée (1715-1767), by 15, Vigée-LeBrun supported her mother and brother with her earnings from portrait painting. Her talent soon attracted the notice of Queen Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), who appointed her to the Academy in 1783. Vigée-LeBrun’s prominent position expanded her reputation as an artist. After the French Revolution forced her to leave France in 1797, Vigée-LeBrun worked as a portraitist and gained renown in Italy, Austria, Russia, England, and Switzerland. Vigée-LeBrun’s work can now be found worldwide in places such as Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, London’s National Gallery, and Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Anyone interested in women’s art and the challenges overcome by eighteenth-century women artists in the world of the art salon will enjoy Salon Style: French Portraits from the Collection. Join the National Museum of Women in the Arts between 29 January 2016 and 22 May 2016 for a celebration of Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and other women artists who flourished despite exceptional odds.
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