Photo of the Week

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Left to right: Eiffel Tower, Louvre Pyramid, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and Ferris Wheel. © Paris Update

 

Paris Update This Week’s Events

For full details about an event, click on the title to visit the official Web site (in English when available).

Drawing through the ages

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"Apples" (1944), by Henri Matisse. Eric Coatalem Gallery.

> Salon du Dessin: 39 galleries showing works on paper, from Old Masters to contemporary. Palais Brogniart, Paris, March 22-27.

Contemporary drawing fair
> Drawing Now: 73 galleries, Carreau du Temple, Paris, March 23-26.

More contemporary drawings
>Ddessin: 20 galleries. Atelier Richelieu, Paris, March 24-26.

Art and design fair
> PAD (Paris Art + Design),
67 galleries, Tuileries Garden, Paris, March 22-26.

African culture festival
> The 100% Afriques festival showcases dance, theater, music, fashion, design, art, food and more from all over the continent. La Villette, Paris, March 23-May 28.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Audrey Dana's Si j'Étais un Homme, preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, Feb. 24.

Documentary film festival
> Cinéma du Réel showcases documentaries from around the world. Various venues, Paris, March 24-April 2.

Suburban blues
> The Banlieues Bleues festival brings major French and international jazz acts to the Paris suburbs. Various venues, through March 31.

Before and after ecological disaster
> The Chic Planète festival presents two types of films, those celebrating the bounty of the earth and science-fiction views of what will happen after an ecopalypse. Forum des Images, Paris, through April 13.

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Art - Temporary Exhibitions

 

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

Independent Woman Artist
Finally Given Her Due

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“L’Artiste Exécutant un Portrait de la Reine Marie-Antoinette” (1790). © Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy/Bridgeman Images

Feminism was already under serious discussion in enlightened 18th-century France. In 1790, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743–94), for example, published an essay entitled “On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship” (a right they did not receive until 1944!), and the writer Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) and many others advocated for the rights of women. While Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) was not an avowed feminist, she lived the life, successfully supporting her family as a court painter and, after the Revolution, surviving by painting her way across Europe. Gita May, author of The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution, calls her “a woman artist who managed to achieve greatness in spite of numerous obstacles due to her gender and to the explosive political times in which she lived.”

The exhibition “Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun,” at Paris’s Grand Palais is, amazingly, the first major Vigée Le Brun retrospective ever held in France (one was held at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1982). Could the reason be a lingering disdain for a woman painter who portrayed primarily women, most notably Marie-Antoinette (as the queen’s official portraitist)? Hard to say for sure, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising, especially considering that women artists are still so underrepresented in museums today.

Vigée Le Brun wasn’t the only woman painter around at the time, however. The show includes accomplished works by such female contemporaries as Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Marie Guillemine Le Roulx de La Ville, Adèle Romany and Marie Victoire Lemoine. One work by Labille-Guiard brings the artist together with her students Marie Gabrielle

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“L’artiste dans Son Atelier avec Deux de ses Elèves, Marie Gabrielle Capet et Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond” (1785), by Adélaïde Labille Guiard. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN Grand Palais/image of the MMA

Capet and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond.

The exhibition begins with a series of self-portraits, showing Vigée Le Brun as a beautiful young woman and gradually maturing. Although there are none of her in old age, they seem to be honest appraisals of her changing features. Another section presents works by her father, Louis Vigée, a talented pastel portraitist, who taught her the basics before dying when she was 12 years old.

Vigée Le Brun ended up supporting her family with her art by the time she was 15. She painted her first portrait of Marie-Antoinette in 1778 and was admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1783.

Here we have a number of portraits of the queen by Vigée Le Brun, variously showing her in full, outlandish regalia, complete with a towering hairdo topped with feathers and ribbons (and a bright-red nose that looks incongruous to us today); in a simple dress and straw hat; and, in a painting meant to provide positive propaganda presenting her as the

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“Marie-Antoinette et Ses Enfants” (1787). © Photo: RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles)/Gérard Blot

fecund mother of France, surrounded by her children (a poignant detail not mentioned in the exhibition is the empty cradle the dauphin Louis Charles points to; his sister, Madame Sophie, had died as a baby and was painted out of the picture).

A few of Vigée Le Brun’s lovely, almost impressionistic landscapes are also on show, and one wishes that more had survived to better demonstrate her artistic diversity, for, although her remarkable talent is undeniable, I must admit that by the end of this extensive and mostly highly pleasing show, I was growing tired of the too-great similarity among the portraits, whether of French or other European royalty.

It has been said that she flattered her subjects, and having just seen an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London of the work of another 18th-century painter, Jean-Étienne Liotard, who most certainly did not flatter those whose portraits he painted, even the aristocrats, I tend to agree. Ironically, her paintings of babies, so difficult to capture with their smooth features, are full of personality and individuality, while many of the women she painted have similar turned-up noses, pink cheeks, cherubic lips and angelic expressions.

Vigée Le Brun’s great skill still shines through, however, in masterful paintings that are the equal or better of many of her male contemporaries.

Heidi Ellison

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais: 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Tel.: 01 44 13 17 17. Open Wednesday, 10am-10pm, Thursday-Monday, 10am-8pm. Closed Tuesday. Admission: €13. Through January 11, 2016. www.grandpalais.fr

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