The Portraits of
Mme Germaine de Stael (1766-1817)

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By Vigée Le Brun
Beaux Arts Museum, Geneva
Art Page 36
Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun journeyed to Switzerland in 1808 to paint a portrait of Mme Germain de Stael (1766-1817) at Coppet, her renowned chateau residence situated beside lake Geneva. Coppet was referred to as "the salon of Europe" for its famed gatherings of intellectuals, writers and nobility. here Mme de Stael entertained in palatial surroundings the most distinguished personnages in the land. The guests discussed topics of current interest and they were entertained by music, peotry readings and plays. Mme de Stael was quite literally the toast of Europe. She has been described as the first female ambassador, an unofficial title conferred upon her for a legendary role as a hostess and writer.

By Massot
Chateau of Coppet
At the time Vigée Le Brun arrived at Coppet, summoned to paint her portrait, Mme de Stael's book "Corinne" was the talk of the continent. It was in this heroine's role that Vigée Le Brun decided to portray her using the character of her Greek poetress. Germaine de Stael desired to have the portrait painted in order to have engravings made from it. She would then be able to send these copies to her wide circle of friends, much as a photo would be sent today. vlb arranged her portrait to include a lyre, depicting her as a muse of the arts. after two weeks of sessions at the chateau, she sent the painting on to Paris to be finished later. When the painting was finally received by Germaine, it was not to her liking, one of the few dissatisfied clients of Vigée Le Brun. Her displeasure lead to a local Geneva society portraitist named Massot to be given the assignment of making a "silk purse out of a sows ear". He followed Vigée Le Brun's lead very closely, but softened and reduced Germaines bulk, resulting in a more flattering likeness in keeping with her own opinion of herself. he painted entirely to please.

There was conjecture in later years as to which was the original Vigée Le Brun of the two versions. This has been resolved and her painting is displayed in the Beaux Arts Museum at Geneva while the other is on view at the chateau of Coppet. Another female painter. Marguerite Gerard, painted the de Staels. Both mother and daughter, around the same period. Currently a litigation is taking place concerning the family descendents of Mme de Stael who live currently at the chateau; this dispute may involve the two paintings

Francis Kelly, London
Victoria Strommer, Geneva

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