In October1789 Vigée-Lebrun fled from the termoil then wracking France. She of course had no premonition of the horrors that awaited her circle of clients, and she could not have guessed the fate of her patron, Queen Marie Antoinette. But as a shrewd business-woman, she saw at once that financial prosperty was hardly likely in a country where aristocratic and royal privilege was already under attack. So, accompanied by her daughter but not her husband, she set off on what would become twelve years of exile. Her first stop was Italy where she was welcomed like a head of state. At Florence she was asked to paint her portrait for the celebrated collection of portraits of famous artists by their own hand at the Uffizi gallery.
Vigée-Lebrun started this self portrait while in Florence, but finished it in Rome. Many critics believe that this is one of the best heads she ever painted, sunny, smiling, happy, and youthful. More important, it shows the consumate professional artist at work. The subject of the painting upon which she is working can be dimmly seen, but scholars have identified the subject: Queen Marie Antoinette. Once again, Vigée-Lebrun is showing her allegiance to the ancien regime, a full year after it has been toppled.
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