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Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Anne Catherine (Aimée) Augier Vestris

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun1803/1803

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, D.C., United States

After she fled France in the wake of the revolution, artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun spent time in various countries throughout Europe. While in England, she painted this portrait of a young woman wearing a Grecian-inspired dress and dark blue veil.

Rendered with the luminous skin and large dark eyes often seen in Vigée-LeBrun portraits, the woman gazes into the distance. Variously described as wistful, melancholy, or thoughtful, her expression remains ambiguous. Behind her, through the trees, the sky is tinged with the glow of the setting sun, which casts a flattering light on the sitter.

The identity of this woman is far from certain although some scholars believe that she might be Anne Catherine Augier Vestris (1777–1809), a French dancer who went by the stage name Aimée. Anne Catherine was the wife of dancer Auguste Vestris, who came from a famous family of performers.

Unfortunately for his wife, Auguste was not entirely faithful to his marriage, a fact that drove Anne Catherine to attempt to take her own life. Although she was unsuccessful, Anne Catherine died at the young age of 32, possibly from lingering effects of her suicide attempt.

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  • Title: Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Anne Catherine (Aimée) Augier Vestris
  • Creator: Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun
  • Date: 1803/1803
  • artist profile: Renowned French artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun was Marie Antoinette's favorite painter for a decade. She also enjoyed the patronage of European aristocrats, actors, and writers and was elected to art academies in 10 cities. At the age of 15, Vigée-LeBrun was earning enough money from her portrait painting to support herself, her widowed mother, and her younger brother. Trained by her father, the portraitist Louis Vigée, she joined Paris’s Academy of Saint Luke at 19. Two years later, she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre LeBrun, a painter and art dealer who helped her gain valuable access to the art world. Vigée-LeBrun’s talent helped her please even the most demanding sitters. She soon came to the attention of the French queen, who in 1783 appointed her a member of Paris’s powerful Royal Academy. As one of only four female academicians, Vigée-LeBrun enjoyed a high artistic, social, and political profile. Her profile grew too high, for once the French Revolution came, she was forced to flee the country with her nine-year-old daughter. During the next 12 years the artist was commissioned to create portraits of the most celebrated residents of Rome, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Berlin. After brief, highly successful stays in England and Switzerland, Vigée-LeBrun returned to France for good in 1809. She divided the last 33 years of her life between her Paris residence, where she held glittering salons, and her country house at Louveciennes. Scholars estimate that Vigée-LeBrun produced more than 600 paintings. Her memoirs, originally published in 1835–37, have been translated and reprinted numerous times.
  • Style: Neoclassicism
  • Physical Dimensions: w28 x h35.75 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of an anonymous donor; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibitions: “Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections,” 2012; “Artists’ Sketchbooks and Illustrated Diaries: Exploring the In/Visible,” 2007; “An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum,” 2003; “Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997,” 1997–98; “Book as Art I,” 1987

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