Kimbell Art Museum Exhibition
June 5 - August 8, 1982

Although Elisabeth Louise vigee Le Brun was recognized as one of Europe's foremost portrait painters during her lifetime, her art has been the subject of surprisingly little serious attention from modern scholars. It has been more than fifty years since her paintings were systematically reviewed. Her work is considered only briefly in modern studies about the art of her period and is rarely mentioned in standard art-historical texts. For vigee Le Brun there has been no sequence of steadily more refined monographs and exhibitions; indeed, this exhibition is the first retrospective survey ever mounted from her prolific oeuvre of paintings and drawings.

During the past thirty years, however, at least twenty-four vigee Le Brun paintings have been added by gift or purchase to public collections in Europe and the United States. This substantial influx has enhanced awareness of the variety and quality of her accomplishments and has stimulated new art - historical interest in individual works by the artist.

In recent years specialized studies have illuminated various aspects of vigee Le Brun's art. The artist's Russian and Polish sitters have been studied in useful articles by Nikolenko and Ryszkiewicz. Joseph Baillio, who is currently compiling the catalogue raisonne of the artist's paintings and is the author of the present publication, has restored eight works to the artist's youthful oeuvre, reidentified the sitters in seven portraits, and examined the political and social context for the artist's most important royal commission, Marie Antoinette and Her Children (see References Cited). Also influential in stimulating interest in vigee Le Brun's art have been recent feminist studies: for example, the important exhibition catalogue Women Artists: 1550-1950 (Los Angeles, and elsewhere, 1977), and Germaine Greer's provocative The Obstacle Race (1979). Key works have appeared in such major exhibitions as: France in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1968); French Painting 1774-1830 (Paris, Detroit and New York, 1974-75); The Eye of Jefferson (Washington, 1976); and the Golden Age of Naples (Detroit and Chicago, 1981-82). These recent studies and exhibitions with their catalogues have been important steps toward establishing a more balanced assessment of vigee Le Brun's art. They provide, as well, the foundation on which this exhibition has been built.

The intent of this exhibition has been to bring together a selective representation from the artist's oeuvre. This group of works, ranging in date from about 1772 (when the artist was seventeen) to 1819 (when she was sixty-four), includes several drawings and pastels as well as oil paintings, some on panel but most on canvas. Featured are some of vigee Le Brun's greatest artistic accomplishments -The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with Her Sons (cat. no. 24), Julie Le Brun (cat. no. 25), The Duchesse d'Orl6ans (cat. no. 28), Countess Skavronsky (cat. no. 30), and Princess Yousoupoff (cat. no. 44). Several previously unrecorded portraits, shown publicly for the first time in this exhibition, give a further insight into the artist's range of accomplishment (cat. nos. 26 and 55). The exhibition includes several child portraits of the 1780s, when Mme Le Brun's sensitivity to children as subjects may have been heightened by her maternal feeling for her own daughter. The four paintings on panel will provide the opportunity for an evaluation of vigee Le Brun's use of this support - rather than canvas - for some of her most important paintings of the 1780s. Valuable information of another kind is presented in the concluding section of this catalogue-the appendices of contemporary documents, several of which are printed here for the first time.

Understandably, some of vigee Le Brun's most celebrated paintings are not seen in the exhibition. The magnificent panel pictures of the Louvre (the two portraits of the artist holding her daughter, Mme Mole Raymond, Mme Rousseau and Her Daughter and the stunning Hubert Robert), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (the Bailli de Crussol) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington (The Marquise de Fresne d'Aguesseau) were unavailable because of restrictions placed on the loan of paintings on wood. We also must note the absence of the important Portrait of Charles Alexandre de Calonne (Collection of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Windsor Castle), the artist's Setf- Portrait "au chapeau de paille" (Private collection, Switzerland), and Versailles' monumental portraits of Marie Antoinette and Her Children and Marie Antoinette "en velours bleu," which were unavailable for various reasons. Loans could not be arranged for any of vigee Le Brun's imperial Russian portraiture. To compensate for the lacunae, many of these key works serve as figure illustrations in the catalogue.

The origins of this exhibition began in the interest in vigee Le Brun's paintings on the part of the founding benefactors of this museum, Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell of Fort Worth. Three of four vigee Le Brun paintings from the Kimbell Bequest, the early Self-Portrait (cat. no. 11) and the portraits of Countess Potocka (cat. no. 34) and Angelica Catalani (cat. no. 54) are featured in the exhibition. Dating from about 1782, 1790, and 1806 respectively, and representing various stages in the artist's career, these three paintings formed a nucleus that inspired the planning of the exhibition. Among the many paintings in the Kimbell collection, vigee Le Brun's Self - Portrait was one of Mr. Kimbell's favorites. This exhibition, therefore, is a tribute to the founders of the museum and is offered to the community on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the public opening of the institution in 1972.

David M. Robb, Jr.
Chief Curator

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Reproduced with the permission of the
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

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