Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, queen of France, and her children

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun1787

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles
Versailles, France

In August 1787, when it was due to be exhibited publically in the Painting Salon (an annual exhibition of paintings in the Louvre on 25 August, feast day of Saint Louis), the reputation of Marie-Antoinette was so bad that the portraitist did not dare send it. She feared that the public would attack the Queen's image. The empty space inspired the famous quip "Here's the Deficit!" It was only when the administration insisted that the painting was delivered. The critics were divided: some praised "the softness of the flesh tones" and the quality of the draperies, while others thought the composition was not very successful because the portraitist was not at ease in such a large format.


  • Title: Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, queen of France, and her children
  • Creator: Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun
  • Date Created: 1787
  • Physical Dimensions: w1950 x h2710 mm
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: http://collections.chateauversailles.fr/#afe9c5d7-f396-4b3a-9fe3-a67e2ae91b80
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Style: French painting, 18th century, Full-length portrait
  • Provenance: Commissioned in September 1785 by the Director General of the King’s Buildings; exhibited at the Salon of 1787; exhibited in the Palace of Versailles in the Mars Room until June 1789; put into storage in the same month; left in the national collections during the Revolution; assigned to the museum of Versailles in the reign of Louis-Philippe.
  • Original Title: Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, reine de France, et ses enfants
  • Additional Viewing Notes: Confronted with the scandal provoked by the “Necklace” affair which was made public in July 1785, Queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned from her official portraitist, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, a large painting depicting her surrounded by her children. Marie-Antoinette’s intention was to present an official image of herself as both queen and mother. She deliberately did not wear much jewellery, wishing it to be known that her children were her only true treasure. This choice also expressed the new interest shown in childhood in this period. However, when the portraitist began her composition in 1786, there were four royal children. Sophie-Béatrice, the youngest, was born in the same year. Unfortunately, the little princess died the following year, in 1787, at the age of eleven months. Despite her rank, the Queen still had to bear the tragedy of losing a child at an early age, which was common at this time. Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun left the cradle empty in her picture in order to show the tragedy that had struck the royal family and thus win the sympathy of visitors to the Salon and of public opinion. This painting is presented in the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert. This room of the Queen’s Grand Appartement, originally used for the royal supper, has been totally restored and refurnished.

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