Happy spring everybody!!
Over the weekend I took a trip to the MET to see the Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun exhibit going on through May 15. Somehow it was only the second time that I've been to the MET even though I live so close! I made the extra effort to go see this exhibit because I have always admired her works, and I absolutely love everything Marie Antoinette, fashion icon of her time. Vigee Le Brun was the royal portraitist to Marie Antoinette and did numerous portraits of her and her children before the French Revolution.
The exhibit was much bigger than I expected, with about 5 rooms dedicated to Vigee Le Brun's artworks. All of her famous works of Marie Antoinette as well as her well-known self portrait were there. It is kind of incredible to stand in front of a painting and know that French royalty stood before that same work over 200 years ago admiring it. Seeing so many of these works that I've studied and admired, knowing they traveled from all over the world for the exhibit, is really amazing. The portrait below of Marie and her three children was impressively large in real life with the figures slightly larger than life-size, a fact I had never realized before when studying the painting and which creates a sense of awe at it's sheer size and mastery. Two portraits of Marie Antoinette that I have studied in art history classes (below), one painted to replace the other after the queen's casual dress caused scandal when displayed at a salon, were shown side by side for the first time ever in this exhibit.
The exhibit explored the various stages of Vigee Le Brun's career, from her early works in her teen years, to her first public showing upon acceptance into a guild, highlighting her work for the royal family and other nobles, into her escape from France during the Revolution and the work she did while traveling abroad in exile. It was particularly interesting to see how her career was shaped as one of only a few female painters of such talent and recognition. I learned that she submitted allegorical works to the academie in hopes of being accepted at a history painter, but was not awarded the title because of her gender. Therefore most of her works are portraits, and it was interesting to notice that most of the subjects were female themselves, often wearing sumptuous dresses and jewels. One thing I noticed particularly was that several of her paintings featured people smiling with an open mouth, showing their teeth. This was very uncommon at the time since portraits were meant to be serious and often meant to portray the power and social status of the sitter. One of my favorite works that I saw in the show that I had not seen before was one of two friends seated together with their children in a tribute to friendship and family. So many of the works in the exhibit were still in their original ornate frames, many of which were inscribed with a title or description.
After the exhibit, we went to see the Masterpieces of Chinese Painting exhibit which showcased many scroll works of painting and calligraphy dating as far back as the Tang and Song dynasties. There was an incredibly detailed scroll painting of narcissus flowers that intricately interwove in a tangle of stems and buds over about 10 feet of paper. It really makes you admire the time and patience put into such works. Many of the scrolls were stamped with collectors stamps, a sign of appreciation for the art and a fascinating addition that shows the artwork's travel and history. I love the Astor Court garden room that sits nestled between the Chinese art galleries. This space, flooded with natural light and encircled in rock formations, a pool of live fish, and traditional wooden awnings, feels like you are stepping outdoors into a tranquil courtyard. With that on our minds a late lunch of ramen nearby at Meijin seemed like the perfect way wrap up the afternoon.