Photo of the Week

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Bicycles in a Parisian courtyard. © Paris Update

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Paris Update What’s On

Links to events happening this week in Paris.

Stick up for science
> The Paris March for Science begins at 1pm at the Jardin des Plantes (Place Valhubert), April 22.

Silent films from Switzerland?
> They’re rare, but they do exist and can be seen at the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé, Paris, April 20-May 2.

Voices from the North
> The Pølar Festival celebrates Northern European culture with films, concerts, talks and more. Various locations, Paris, April 19-29.

Photo walk
> Eight Paris galleries hold special photography shows and events for Parcours Fotofever. Various locations, Paris, through May 1.

Photo shows galore
> Le Mois de la Photo has been moved from autumn to spring, with 96 exhibitions taking place all over the greater Paris area. See Web site for locations and dates.

Art videos
> The theme of this year’s Videobox Festival is “noise and movement.” Carreau du Temple, Paris, April 27-29.

Take home a winemaker
> Winemakers from Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux come to Paris to offer tastings of their products in wine bars and private homes for the event J’Irai Déguster chez Vous. Various venues, Paris, April 20-22.

French film with English subtitles
> Lost in Frenchlation shows Nicolas Bedos’s Monsieur & Madame Adelman preceded by a themed cocktail party (€4.50). Studio 28, Paris, April 21.

Polaroid pix
> The “Expolaroid” exhibition features Polaroid images by nine artists. La Maison des Ensembles, Paris, through April 25.

Binge-watching
> Festival Séries Mania shows TV series from around the world and holds debates, conferences and special guests like Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife,” all for free. Forum des Images, Paris, through April 23.

Travel yarns
> Travel fanatics get together at the Paris Travelers Festival to swap tales of their adventures. FIAP, Paris, April 22-23.

Street art indoors

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The gallery Art in the Game will be showing works by Felipe Pantone at the Urban Art Fair.> Some 30 galleries show street art at the Urban Art Fair. Carreau du Temple, Paris, April 20-23.

Virtual reality
> Drop in on Saturday or Sunday from 2pm to 8pm for a free virtual trip at the VR Express festival. Forum des Images, Paris, through June 30.

Dance in historic sites
> Monuments en Mouvement offers free dance performances in national monuments like the Pantheon in Paris, the Abbaye de Cluny and châteaux. Various locations, through Oct. 21.

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, through May 28.

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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