|Self-portrait in a Straw Hat by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, after 1782|
Today we meet two famed ladies here at the salon; one is a painter, the other the queen who became her friend and muse. Together, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Marie Antoinette produced a portrait that both started a fashion and caused a scandal.
Born on this day, Le Brun was a noted and celebrated portrait artist of her day and when she was invited to paint Marie Antoinette at Versailles, it was the start of an enduring friendship and new chapter in the artist's career. Today I shall look at my favourite of the many portraits of Marie Antoinette that the wonderful Le Brun painted, the somewhat controversial La Reine en Gaulle, completed in 1783.
|La Reine en Gaulle by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783|
The paintings simple enough and depicts the queen in her gaulle, also known (as a result of the painting) as the chemise a la reine. This light, simple muslin gown was a favourite of Marie Antoinette and she wore it at the Petit Trianon, creating a new fashion trend in the noble ladies of Paris. When she posed for this portrait, the queen was already less than popular with some members of the Versailles court, who viewed her lifestyle with distaste and found the exclusive nature of her inner circle difficult to comprehend.
Now, with this apparently simple portrait, the queen put ammunition into the hands of those who disliked her. There is no hint of structure, pomp or, crucially, monarchy evident on the canvas and when the public laid eyes on the portrait during its exhibition at the Salon de Paris, they were horrified. Rather than a woman in an informal garment and in informal setting, they found themselves looking at what appeared to be a portrait of a queen in her underwear. The work was quickly withdrawn and replaced with the quickly produced, far more formal portrait seen below. Although Marie Antoinette retains her rose, she is once more seen in her familiar structured court dress.
|Marie Antoinette dit à la Rose by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783|
I adore the simplicity of the painting; it's nice to see Marie Antoinette dressed down a little, perhaps showing us a little more of the woman behind the queen. After the painting was displayed Marie's new, dressed-down look became instantly fashionable. As the women of the upper classes began to buy less silk and satin, the Queen found herself accused of deliberately sabotaging the nation's fabric industry in favour of imported textiles. In addition, there were whispers that she was trying to undermine the monarchy by allowing herself to be painted as a simply-dressed woman rather than a primped and gowned queen. Marie Antoinette would not be painted so informally again, but the damage was already done.
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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