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Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)
Madame Perregaux
1789
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Madame Adélaïde de Perregaux strikes an animated pose as she draws aside a green gold-trimmed curtain and leans across the balustrade. She is wearing a black velvet costume with red bows and piping, and a black velvet hat with red plumes. This alluring costume recalls the fashion at the time for variations on seventeenth-century Spanish dress. The pentimenti (alterations to the painting) show changes to the waist, chin and neck. There are a number of reasons why painters make changes to their work: perhaps to correct mistakes or to improve the composition. In this case it may have been to flatter the sitter by slimming down her waist and neck.

Why might artists want to paint flattering portraits?
The artist, Vigée Le Brun, considered this portrait to be one of her best due to its great resemblance to the sitter. We know from her autobiography Souvenirs de ma Vie (1837), that she aimed for poses to be suited to the sitters’ age and character, and that she disliked the formality and artifice of contemporary fashion and make-up, preferring to depict her objects as fresh-faced and in picturesque dress which aimed at greater naturalness and spontaneity.
How would you like to be dressed for a portrait?

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) was one of history's most successful and prolific portrait painters. In 1778, she was commissioned to paint Marie-Antoinette (Queen to King Louis XVI of France) who became a close friend and the subject of more than 25 portraits by the artist.

Greatly inspired by the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Vigée Le Brun adopted his compositions as well as his technique to achieve polished portraits of European royalty and aristocracy. This portrait shows her adaptation of Rubens’ vibrant colour palette. Painted on an oak panel, the texture of the wood grain shows through the layered paint. The brilliant colours red, green, blue and black, as well as the twisty pose and low viewpoint, give the image a sense of monumentality and drama which engages the viewer and flatters the sitter.

Consider the portrait in relation to its time: it was made in 1789, the year of the outbreak of the French Revolution, which soon after forced Vigée Le Brun to flee France.

Is there any indication of the troubled political situation in this portrait?
Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)  Madame Perregaux   1789
Materials and technique: Oil on oak panel
Dimensions: 99.6 x 78.5 cm
Wallace Collection (P457)
Pose and Expression
Colour and Technique
Materials
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