Can you cause controversy with a self portrait? Well apparently you can, or could, even one this lovely and made with such superb skill. Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was one of the leading portrait painters of her time and is often considered to have been the official portraitist of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She made over 660 portraits and together they form an almost complete who’s who of European nobility. This self portrait shows her as if she has just taken a brisk walk (because of the colour of her cheeks) and is outside in the sunshine ready to paint. All of this was carefully considered. She never painted outside. Nobody did because the equipment you need for that hadn’t been invented. She is wearing a series of different fabrics so we can see just how good she is at painting them. Also the shade falling on her face, the flowers and feather are all there to show off her skill. And then there is this lovely open and friendly face and her subtle hand-gesture that says: please sit for me. So why the controversy? Well her mouth is open. We can see her teeth. That was deemed improper for a painting and caused a stir at the French court. I think it opens up her expression, as if she is about to speak. What do you think?
You can see this one in the National Gallery in London.
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