Feel Art Again: Queen Marie-Antoinette and Her Children

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On this day in 1793, Marie Antoinette was guillotined for treason. Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun painted approximately 30 portraits of Marie Antoinette prior to the queen's death; "Queen Marie-Antoinette and Her Children" was the last. I've dug up a few interesting facts about this significant painting, which is now on display at the Chateau de Versailles.

1. Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun was not just a painter to the queen; she was the her favorite artist and a close personal friend.

2. The cradle in the painting is empty, alluding to the recent death of Marie's youngest child, Sophie-Béatrix. She had died while the painting was in process, shortly before her first birthday. Empty cradles were often used in family paintings to represent deceased children.

3. In 1787, the queen was not viewed very favorably by the people of France, due to the "necklace affair" the year before. Customarily, children would not be included in official portraits, but Marie hoped the portrait would help her regain popularity by displaying her as a mother and monarch.

4. The daughter of a portraitist and a fan painter, Vigée-Lebrun was painting professionally by her early teen years. Today, she is regarded as the most famous female painter of the 18th century.

5. At one point during the early days of Vigée-Lebrun's career, her studio was seized because she was practicing without a license.

6. She was accepted as a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture on May 31, 1783, but there was some opposition to her acceptance, since her husband was an art dealer. The opposition was overruled by an order from the king himself, Louis XVI, because Marie Antoinette put pressure on her husband on behalf of her friend. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, another female French painter, was accepted into the Académie the same day.

'Feel Art Again' appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.