In the most creative and productive years of her life, between 1783 and 1789, Vigée-Lebrun exhibited more than forty portraits and historical compositions at the Academy's biennial Salon. She was demanding and getting fabulously high fees for portraits, especially of fashionable women, and especially of those in attendance at the court of Versailles. In addition, she had developed a reputation as one of the most glamorous women in Parisian society in the final years of the ancien regime.
In this unusual self-portrait, Vigée-Lebrun has painted herself as a madonna and child, with her daughter Julie. The lavish dress and head-piece do not detract at all from the tenderness of the pose. But the composition clearly states that maternal love is not limited to peasant and rustic types (such as Rousseau had so persuasively argued) but was also possible for those who lived in the upper ranks of society. Here, for the first time, we see Vigée-Lebrun taking up the intellectual cudgels for the integrity and sincerity of the "establishment." She was to remain a determined royalist and advocate of aristocratic virtues to the end of her life. It was a conviction that would not serve her reputation well in post-revolutionary Europe.
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