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Customer Review

on May 28, 2000
I would like to correct the lady reviewer of Waltham, Massachusetts who does equal disservice to Mme Vigee Le Brun and to the writer of 'The Exceptional Woman : Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun and the Cultural Politics of Art' in labelling the artist an "extremely uppity chick". The writer would also be the first to correct the reviewer's odd notion that she has rescued Mme Vigee Le Brun from oblivion. Elisabeth-Louise was not only the finest portraitist of her day, and generally acknowledged as such, despite early salon criticism - compare the charm of her double portrait of Therese-Elisabeth-Charlotte, Madame Royale with her brother the first Dauphin, with the pedestrian work by Drouais for example - but also a woman of letters. Her diary, which is also available, not only catalogues the people for whom she worked but describes them in a way that would summon them to life even did we not possess the canvasses she painted of them.
Her description of Marie-Antoinette and account of the Queen's sense of humour is touching; her account of being summoned to paint Mesdames Tantes - Louis XVI's rather spiteful spinster aunts Madame Victoire and Madame Adelaide - on their arrival in Rome - is also amusing. However, Elisabeth Louise was no feminist, nor would she have joined the camp had the movement existed at the time. She was fully aware of her talents and her charm, and felt not in the least disadvantaged by being a woman or of the judgements that this sometimes occasioned.
Ghastly phrases - 'extremely uppity chick' is one of the worst I have yet found in describing a late-eighteenth century woman - which betray a naievty and an atrocious lack of inscape can only harm the credibility of the feminist cause. I'll leave you with the words of my great grandmother, the first Englishwoman to be a Justice of the Peace, who on finding two suffragettes in her court, said, "My dears, you should realise, as I did long ago, that it is pointless campaigning for equality with a being who is manifestly our inferior in every way." Madame Vigee Le Brun realised this I am sure. I am sure too that she, like every woman confident of her femininity and unique value, would not stoop to generally denigrating men simply because they are men. Had she done so, we would have been deprived of so many of her magnificent portraits.
There is a very large collection of Mme Vigee Le Brun's works in the United States; the reviewer from Waltham can access it simply by typing 'Vigee Le Brun' into the search field on her computer.
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