It is surprising, too, that the Parisians, who have nothing but the Tuileries and the Luxembourg, should have renounced those other resorts, which were half urban and half rural, where you went in the evening to get a breath of air and eat ices. MY detestable stepfather, annoyed no doubt by the public admiration shown my mother, forbade us to go for any more walks, and informed us that he was about to take a place in the country.
At this announcement my heart beat with joy, for I was passionately fond of the country. I had been sleeping near the foot of my mother's bedstead, in a dark corner where the light of day never penetrated. Every morning, whatever the weather might be, my first care was to open the window wide, such was my thirst for fresh air.
So my stepfather took a small cottage at Chaillot, and we went there on Saturday, spent Sunday there, and returned to Paris on Monday morning. Good heavens, what a country! Imagine a tiny vicarage garden, without a tree, without any shelter from the blazing sun but a little arbour, where my stepfather had planted some beans and nasturtium, which refused to grow.
At that we only occupied a quarter of this delightful garden, for it was divided into four by slender railings, and the three other sections were let out to shopboys, who came every Sunday and amused themselves by shooting at the birds. The incessant noise threw me into a desperate state of mind, besides which I was terribly afraid of being killed by these marksmen, so inaccurate was their aim.
I could not understand why this stupid, ugly place, the very recollection of which makes me yawn as I write, was "the country. Both were sorry for me in my exile, and sometimes took me out for a charming drive. Luke's Gallery, Rome" [ Full Image ]. We went to Marly-le-Roi, and there I found a more beautiful spot than any I had seen in my life. On each side of the magnificent palace were six summer-houses communicating with one another by walks embowered with jessamine and honeysuckle. Water fell in cascades from the top of a hill behind the castle, and formed a large channel on which a number of swans floated.
The handsome trees, the carpets of green, the flowers, the fountains, one of which spouted up so high that it was lost from sight — it was all grand, all regal; it all spoke of Louis XIV. One morning I met Queen Marie Antoinette walking in the park with several of the ladies of her court. They were all in white dresses, and so young and pretty that for a moment I thought I was in a dream. I was with my mother, and was turning away when the Queen was kind enough to stop me, and invited me to continue in any direction I might prefer.
The palace, the trees, the cascades. I found it very hard to quit those lovely gardens and go back to our hideous Chaillot. But we at last went back to Paris, and settled there for the winter. The time left over from my work I now spent in a most agreeable manner.
From the age of fifteen I had been going out into the best society; and I knew all the celebrated artists, so that I received invitations from all sides. I very well remember the first time I dined in town with the sculptor Le Moine, who was then enjoying a great reputation. It was there I met the famous actor Lekain, who struck terror into my heart because of his wild and sinister appearance; his huge eyebrows only added to the fierce expression of his face.
He scarcely talked at all, and ate enormously. It was then the custom to sing at dessert. When the turn of the young ladies came — to whom, I must admit, this custom was torture — they would turn pale and tremble all over, and consequently often sing very much out of tune. In spite of these dissonances, the dinners ended pleasantly, and we always rose from the table with regret, although we did not immediately order our carriages, as the fashion is to-day.
I cannot, however, speak of the dinners of the present day excepting through hearsay, in view of the fact that soon after the time I have just mentioned I stopped dining in town for good. A slight adventure I had made me determine to go out only in the evening. I had accepted an invitation to dine with Princess Rohan-Rochefort.
All dressed and ready to get into my carriage, I was seized with a sudden desire to take a look at a portrait that I had begun that same morning. I had on a white satin dress, which I was wearing for the first time. I sat down on my chair opposite my easel without noticing that my palette was lying on the chair. It may readily be conceived that the state of my gown was such as to compel me to remain at home, and I resolved thenceforth to accept no invitations excepting to supper.
The dinners of Princess Rohan-Rochefort were delightful. The evening was usually filled up with playing and singing, and I often sang to my own accompaniment on the guitar. Supper was at half-past ten; we were never more than ten or twelve at table. We all vied with one another in sociability and wit. As for me, I was only a humble listener, and, although too young to appreciate the qualities of this conversation to the full, it spoiled me for ordinary conversation. My life as a young girl was very unusual. Not only did my talent — feeble as it seemed to me when I thought of the great masters — cause me to be sought after and welcomed by society, but I sometimes was the object of attentions which I might call public, and of which, I avow, I was very proud.
I made a gift of them to the French Academy, which sent me a very flattering letter through the permanent secretary, d'Alembert. My presentation of these two portraits to the Academy also secured me the honour of a visit from d'Alembert, a dried up morsel of a man of exquisitely polished manners. He stayed a long time and looked my study all over, while he paid me a thousand compliments. Lebrun had just bought the house and lived there himself, and as soon as we were settled in it I began to examine the splendid masterpieces of all schools with which his lodgings were filled.
I was enchanted at an opportunity of first-hand acquaintance with these works by great masters. Lebrun was so obliging as to lend me, for purposes of copying, some of his handsomest and most valuable paintings. Thus I owed him the best lessons I could conceivably have obtained, when, after a lapse of six months, he asked my hand in marriage.
I was far from wishing to become his wife, though he was very well built and had a pleasant face. I was then twenty years old, and was living without anxiety as to the future, since I was already earning a deal of money, so that I felt no manner of inclination for matrimony. But my mother, who believed M. Lebrun to be very rich, incessantly plied me with arguments in favour of accepting such an advantageous match.
At last I decided in the affirmative, urged especially by the desire to escape from the torture of living with my stepfather, whose bad temper had increased day by day since he had relinquished active pursuits. So little, however, did I feel inclined to sacrifice my liberty that, even on my way to church, I kept saying to myself, "Shall I say yes, or shall I say no? I said yes, and in so doing exchanged present troubles for others.
Lebrun was a cruel man: But his furious passion for gambling was at the bottom of the ruin of his fortune and my own, of which he had the entire disposal, so that in , when I quitted France, I had not an income of twenty francs, although I had earned more than a million. He had squandered it all. My marriage was kept secret for some time. Lebrun, who was supposed to marry the daughter of a Dutchman with whom he did a great business in pictures, asked me to make no announcement until he had wound up his affairs. To this I consented the more willingly that I did not give up my maiden name without regret, particularly as I was so well known by that name.
But the keeping of the secret, which did not last long, was nevertheless fraught with disastrous consequences for my future. A number of people who simply believed that I was merely considering a match with M. Lebrun came to advise me to commit no such piece of folly. Auber, the crown jeweller, said to me in a friendly spirit: You will be miserable if you do!
The announcement of my marriage put an end to these sad warnings, which, thanks to my dear painting, had little effect on my usual good spirits. I could not meet the orders for portraits that were showered upon me from every side. Lebrun soon got into the habit of pocketing my fees. He also hit upon the idea of making me give lessons in order to increase our revenues. I acceded to his wishes without a moment's thought.
The number of portraits I painted at this time was really prodigious. As I detested the female style of dress then in fashion, I bent all my efforts upon rendering it a little more picturesque, and was delighted when, after getting the confidence of my models, I was able to drape them according to my fancy. Shawls were not yet worn, but I made an arrangement with broad scarfs lightly intertwined round the body and on the arms, which was an attempt to imitate the beautiful drapings of Raphael and Domenichino.
The picture of my daughter playing the guitar is an example. Besides, I could not endure powder. I persuaded the handsome Duchess de Grammont-Caderousse to put none on for her sittings. Her hair was ebony black, and I divided it on the forehead, disposing it in irregular curls. After the sitting, which ended at the dinner hour, the Duchess would not change her headdress, but go to the theatre as she was.
A woman of such good looks would, of course, set a fashion: This reminds me that in , when I was painting the Queen, I begged her to use no powder, and to part her hair on the forehead. As I said, I was overwhelmed with orders and was very much in vogue. Soon after my marriage I was present at a meeting of the French Academy at which La Harpe read his discourse on the talents of women. When he arrived at certain lines of exaggerated praise, which I was hearing for the first time, and in which he extolled my art and likened my smile to that of Venus, the author of "Warwick" threw a glance at me.
At once the whole assembly, without excepting the Duchess de Chartres and the King of Sweden — who both were witnessing the ceremonies — rose up, turned in my direction, and applauded with such enthusiasm that I almost fainted from confusion. But these pleasures of gratified vanity were far from comparable with the joy I experienced in looking forward to motherhood. I will not attempt to describe the transports I felt when I heard the first cry of my child.
Every mother knows what those feelings are. Not long before that event I painted the Duchess de Mazarin, who was no longer young, but whose beauty had not yet faded. This Duchess de Mazarin was said to have been endowed on her birth by three fairies, Wealth, Duty and Ill-luck. Certain it is that the poor woman could undertake nothing, not even so much as entertaining a party of friends, without some mishap befalling.
A number of tales of all sorts of untoward happenings were current. Here is one of the least known: One evening, having sixty people to supper, she conceived the plan of putting on the table an enormous pie, in which were imprisoned a hundred tiny living birds. At a sign from the Duchess the pie was opened, and the whole fluttering flock beat their wings against the faces of the guests and took refuge in the hair of the women, making nests of their elaborately built-up head-dresses.
It may be imagined what consternation and excitement there was! It was impossible to get rid of the unfortunate birds, and at last the company was obliged to leave the table, while they blessed such a silly trick. The Duchess de Mazarin was very stout; it took hours to lace her. One day, while she was being laced, a visitor was announced.
One of her maids ran to the door and exclaimed: When asked at the opera to point out the woman that pleased them most of all the occupants of the boxes, they pointed without hesitation to the Duchess de Mazarin — because she was the fattest. While speaking of ambassadors, I must not forget to say how I once painted two diplomats, who, though they were copper-coloured, nevertheless had splendid heads.
In some envoys were sent to Paris by the Emperor Tippoo Sahib. I saw these Indians at the opera and they appeared to me so remarkably picturesque that I thought I should like to paint them. But as they communicated to their interpreter that they would never allow them selves to be painted unless the request came from the King, I managed to secure that favour from His Majesty.
I repaired to the hotel where the strangers were lodging, for they wanted to be painted at home. On my arrival one of them brought in a jar of rose-water, with which he sprinkled my hands; then the tallest, whose name was Davich Kahn, gave me a sitting. I did him standing, with his hand on his dagger. He threw himself into such an easy, natural position of his own accord that I did not make him change it. I let the paint dry in another room, and began on the portrait of the old ambassador, whom I represented seated with his son next to him. The father especially had a magnificent head.
Both were clad in flowing robes of white muslin worked with golden flowers, and these robes, a sort of long tunic with wide, up-turned sleeves, were held in place by gorgeous belts. They invited us both to dinner, and we accepted from sheer curiosity. Upon entering the dining-room we were rather surprised to see that the dinner was served on the floor, which obliged us to assume an attitude that was very much like lying down, following the example of our Oriental hosts.
They helped us with their hands to the contents of the dishes. In one of these was a fricassee of sheep's feet with white sauce, highly spiced, and in another some indescribable hash. Our meal was not exactly pleasant; it was rather too much of a shock to us to see those brown hands used as spoons. The ambassadors had brought a young man with them who spoke a little French. During my sittings Mme. When we went to make our farewells the young man recited his song, and expressed his regret in parting from us by adding: When Davich Kahn's portrait was dry I sent for it, but he had hidden it behind his bed and would not give it up, asserting that the picture still needed a soul.
I could only obtain my painting by employing strategy.
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
When the ambassador could not find it he put the responsibility on his valet, and threatened to kill him. The interpreter had all the trouble in the world to explain that it was not the custom to kill one's valet in Paris, and informed him, moreover, that the King of France had asked for the portrait. It was in the year that I painted the Queen for the first time; she was then in the heyday of her youth and beauty. Marie Antoinette was tall and admirably built, being somewhat stout, but not excessively so.
Her arms were superb, her hands small and perfectly formed, and her feet charming. She had the best walk of any woman in France, carrying her head erect with a dignity that stamped her queen in the midst of her whole court, her majestic mien, however, not in the least diminishing the sweetness and amiability of her face.
To any one who has not seen the Queen it is difficult to get an idea of all the graces and all the nobility combined in her person. Her features were not regular; she had inherited that long and narrow oval peculiar to the Austrian nation. Her eyes were not large; in colour they were almost blue, and they were at the same time merry and kind.
Her nose was slender and pretty, and her mouth not too large, though her lips were rather thick. But the most remarkable thing about her face was the splendour of her complexion. I never have seen one so brilliant, and brilliant is the word, for her skin was so transparent that it bore no umber in the painting. Neither could I render the real effect of it as I wished. I had no colours to paint such freshness, such delicate tints, which were hers alone, and which I had never seen in any other woman.
At the first sitting the imposing air of the Queen at first frightened me greatly, but Her Majesty spoke to me so graciously that my fear was soon dissipated. It was on that occasion that I began the picture representing her with a large basket, wearing a satin dress, and holding a rose in her hand. This portrait was destined for her brother, Emperor Joseph II.
I painted various pictures of the Queen at different times. In one I did her to the knees, in a pale orange-red dress, standing before a table on which she was arranging some flowers in a vase.
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It may be well imagined that I preferred to paint her in a plain gown and especially without a wide hoopskirt. She usually gave these portraits to her friends or to foreign diplomatic envoys. One of them shows her with a straw hat on, and a white muslin dress, whose sleeves are turned up, though quite neatly. When this work was exhibited at the Salon, malignant folk did not fail to make the remark that the Queen had been painted in her chemise, for we were then in , and calumny was already busy concerning her.
Yet in spite of all this the portraits were very successful. Toward the end of the exhibition a little piece was given at the Vaudeville Theatre, bearing the title, I think, "The Assembling of the Arts. As I had no suspicion of the surprise in store for me, judge of my emotion when Painting appeared on the scene and I saw the actress representing that art copy me in the act of painting a portrait of the Queen. The same moment everybody in the parterre and the boxes turned toward me and applauded to bring the roof down. I can hardly believe that any one was ever more moved and more grateful than I was that evening.
I was so fortunate as to be on very pleasant terms with the Queen. As for her conversation, it would be difficult for me to convey all its charm, all its affability. I do not think that Queen Marie Antoinette ever missed an opportunity of saying some thing pleasant to those who had the honour of being presented to her, and the kindness she always bestowed upon me has ever been one of my sweetest memories. One day I happened to miss the appointment she had given me for a sitting; I had suddenly become unwell.
The next day I hastened to Versailles to offer my excuses. The Queen was not expecting me; she had had her horses harnessed to go out driving, and her carriage was the first thing I saw on entering the palace yard. I nevertheless went upstairs to speak with the chamberlains on duty. One of them, M. Campan, received me with a stiff and haughty manner, and bellowed at me in his stentorian voice, "It was yesterday, madame, that Her Majesty expected you, and I am very sure she is going out driving, and I am very sure she will give you no sitting to-day!
She was finishing her toilet, and was holding a book in her hand, hearing her daughter repeat a lesson. My heart was beating violently, for I knew that I was in the wrong. But the Queen looked up at me and said most amiably, "I was waiting for you all the morning yesterday; what happened to you? I am here to receive more now, and then I will immediately retire.
I remember that, in my confusion and my eagerness to make a fitting response to her kind words, I opened my paint-box so excitedly that I spilled my brushes on the floor. I stooped down to pick them up. When the Queen went for the last time to Fontainebleau, where the court, according to custom, was to appear in full gala, I repaired there to enjoy that spectacle. I saw the Queen in her grandest dress; she was covered with diamonds, and as the brilliant sunshine fell upon her she seemed to me nothing short of dazzling. Her head, erect on her beautiful Greek neck, lent her as she walked such an imposing, such a majestic air, that one seemed to see a goddess in the midst of her nymphs.
During the first sitting I had with Her Majesty after this occasion I took the liberty of mentioning the impression she had made upon me, and of saying to the Queen how the carriage of her head added to the nobility of her bearing. She answered in a jesting tone, "If I were not Queen they would say I looked insolent, would they not?
The Queen neglected nothing to impart to her children the courteous and gracious manners which endeared her so to all her surroundings. I once saw her make her six-year-old daughter dine with a little peasant girl and attend to her wants. The Queen saw to it that the little visitor was served first, saying to her daughter, "You must do the honours.
The last sitting I had with Her Majesty was given me at Trianon, where I did her hair for the large picture in which she appeared with her children. After doing the Queen's hair, as well as separate studies of the Dauphin, Madame Royale, and the Duke de Normandie, I busied myself with my picture, to which I attached great importance, and I had it ready for the Salon of The frame, which had been taken there alone, was enough to evoke a thousand malicious remarks.
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At last I sent my picture, but I could not muster up the courage to follow it and find out what its fate was to be, so afraid was I that it would be badly received by the public. In fact, I became quite ill with fright. I shut myself in my room, and there I was, praying to the Lord for the success of my "Royal Family," when my brother and a host of friends burst in to tell me that my picture had met with universal acclaim.
After the Salon, the King, having had the picture transferred to Versailles, M. Then he added, still looking at my work, "I know nothing about painting, but you make me like it. The picture was placed in one of the rooms at Versailles, and the Queen passed it going to mass and returning.
After the death of the Dauphin, which occurred early in the year , the sight of this picture reminded her so keenly of the cruel loss she had suffered that she could not go through the room without shedding tears. She then ordered M. It is really to the Queen's sensitiveness that I owed the preservation of my picture, for the fishwives who soon afterward came to Versailles for Their Majesties would certainly have destroyed it, as they did the Queen's bed, which was ruthlessly torn apart.
I never had the felicity of setting eyes on Marie Antoinette after the last court ball at Versailles. The ball was given in the theatre, and the box where I was seated was so situated that I could hear what the Queen said. I observed that she was very excited, asking the young men of the court to dance with her, such as M. Lameth, whose family had been overwhelmed with kindness by the Queen, and others, who all refused, so that many of the dances had to be given up.
The conduct of these gentlemen seemed to me exceedingly improper; somehow their refusal likened a sort of revolt — the prelude to revolts of a more serious kind. The Revolution was drawing near; it was, in fact, to burst out before long. The features of this last named Princess were not regular, but her face expressed gentle affability, and the freshness of her complexion was remarkable; altogether, she had the charm of a pretty shepherdess. She was an angel of goodness. Many a time have I been a witness to her deeds of charity on behalf of the poor.
All the virtues were in her heart: In the Revolution she displayed heroic courage; she was seen going forward to meet the cannibals who had come to murder the Queen, saying, "They will mistake me for her! The portrait I made of Monsieur favoured me with the occasion to become acquainted with a prince whose wit and learning one could extol without flattery; it was impossible not to find pleasure in the conversation of Louis XVIII.
However, for the sake of variety no doubt, at some of our sittings he would sing to me, and he would sing such common songs that I was unable to understand how these trivial things had ever reached the court. He sang more out of tune than any one in the whole world. The Marquis de Montesquiou, equerry-in-chief to Monsieur, would send me a fine carriage and six to bring me to Versailles and take me back with my mother, who accompanied me at my request. All along the road people stood at the windows to see me pass, and every one took their hats off.
This homage rendered to six horses and an outrider amused me, for on returning to Paris I got into a cab, and nobody took the slightest notice of me. About this time I also painted the Princess de Lamballe.
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Without being actually pretty, she appeared so at a little distance; she had small features, complexion of dazzling freshness, superb blond locks, and was generally elegant in person. The unhappy end of this unfortunate Princess is sufficently well known, and so is the devotion to which she fell a victim.
For in , when she was at Turin, entirely out of harm's way, she returned to France upon learning that the Queen was in danger. Lebrun took me to Flanders, whither he was called by affairs of business. A sale was then being held in Brussels of a splendid collection of pictures belonging to Prince Charles, and we went to view it. I found there several ladies of the court who met me with great kindness, among them the Princess d'Aremberg, whom I had frequently seen in Paris.
But the acquaintance upon which I congratulated myself most was that of the Prince de Ligne, whom I had not known before, and who has left an historic reputation for wit and hospitality. He invited us to visit his gallery, where I admired various masterpieces, especially portraits by Van Dyck and heads by Rubens, for he owned but few Italian pictures.
He was also good enough to receive us at his magnificent house at Bel-Oeil. I remember that he made us ascend to an outlook, built on the top of a hill commanding the whole of his estate and the whole of the country round about. The perfect air we breathed up there, together with the delightful view, was something enchanting. What was best of all in this lovely place was the greetings of the master of the house, who for his graceful mind and manners never had an equal. The town of Brussels seemed to me prosperous and lively. In high society, for instance, people were so wrapped up in pleasure-seeking that several friends of the Prince de Ligne sometimes left Brussels at noon, arriving at the opera in Paris just in time to see the curtain go up, and when the performance was over returned to Brussels, travelling all night.
That is what I call being fond of the opera! We quitted Brussels to go to Holland. I was very much pleased with Saardam and Maestricht; these two little towns are so clean and so very well kept that one envies the lot of the inhabitants. The streets being very narrow and provided with canals, one does not ride in carriages, but on horseback, and small boats are used for the transportation of merchandise. The houses, which are very low, have two doors — the birth door, and the death door, through which one only passes in a coffin.
The roofs of these houses shine as if they were of burnished steel, and everything is so scrupulously clean that I remember seeing, outside a blacksmith's shop, a sort of lamp hanging up, which was gilded and polished as though intended for a lady's chamber. The women of the people in this part of Holland seemed to me very handsome, but were so timid that the sight of a stranger made them run away at once.
I suppose, however, that the presence of the French in their country may have tamed them. We finally visited Amsterdam, and there I saw in the town hall the magnificent painting by Van Loo representing the assembled aldermen. I do not believe that in the whole realm of painting there is anything finer, anything truer; it is nature itself.
The aldermen are dressed in black; faces, hands, draping — all done inimitably. These men are alive; you think you are with them. I persuaded myself that this picture must be the most perfect of its kind; I could not tear myself away from it, and the impression it made on me was strong enough to make it ever present in my mind.
We returned to Flanders to see the masterpieces of Rubens. They were hung much more advantageously than they have been since in Paris, for they all produce a wonderful effect in those Flemish churches. Other works by the same master adorn some private galleries. In one of them, at Antwerp, I found the famous "Straw Hat," which has lately been sold to an Englishman for a large sum.
This admirable picture represents a woman by Rubens. It delighted and inspired me to such a degree that I made a portrait of myself at Brussels, striving to obtain the same effects. I painted myself with a straw hat on my head, a feather, and a garland of wild flowers, holding my palette in my hand.
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And when the portrait was exhibited at the Salon I feel free to confess that it added considerably to my reputation. Soon after my return from Flanders, the portrait I had mentioned, and several other works of mine, were the cause of Joseph Vernet's decision to propose me as a member of the Royal Academy of Painting. Pierre, then first Painter to the King, made strong opposition, not wishing, he said, that women should be admitted, although Mine.
Vallayer-Coster, who painted flowers beautifully, had already been admitted, and I think Mme. Vien had been, too. Pierre, a very mediocre painter, was a clever man. Besides, he was rich, and this enabled him to entertain artists luxuriously. Artists were not so well off in those days as they are now. His opposition might have become fatal to me if all true picture-lovers had not been associated with the Academy, and if they had not formed a cabal, in my favour, against M.
I continued to paint furiously, sometimes taking three sittings in the course of a single day. After-dinner sittings, which fatigued me extremely, brought about a disorder of my stomach, so that I could digest nothing and became wretchedly thin.
My friends made me consult a doctor, who ordered me to sleep every day after dinner. At first it was some trouble to me to follow this habit, but by remaining in my room with the blinds down I gradually succeeded. I am persuaded that I owe my life to this rule. All I regret about that enforced rest is that it deprived me for good and all of the amusement of dining in town, and as I devoted the whole morning to painting I never was able to see my friends until the evening. Then, it is true, none of the pleasures of society were closed to me, for I spent my evenings in the politest and most accomplished circles.
Lebrun had large, richly furnished apartments and kept his pictures by all the great masters. As for myself, I was reduced to occupying a small anteroom, and a bedroom, which also served for my drawing-room. This was unpretentiously papered and furnished, and there I received my visitors from town and court. Every one was eager to come to my evening parties, which were sometimes so crowded that marshals of France sat on the floor for want of chairs. I remember that the Marshal de Noailles, who was very stout and very old, one evening had the greatest difficulty in getting up again.
I was fond of flattering myself, of course, that all these grand people came for my sake. But, as it always was in open houses, some came to see the others, and most of them to enjoy the best music to be heard in Paris. Our usual singers were Garat, Asvedo, Richer, and Mme. My sister-in-law, who had a very fine voice and could sing anything at sight, was very useful to us.
Sometimes I sang myself, but without much method, I confess. Garat may, perhaps, be mentioned as the most extraordinary virtuoso who ever lived. Not only did no difficulties exist for his flexible throat, but as to expression he had no rival, and I think that no one has ever sung Gluck as well as he. For instrumental music I had as a violinist Viotti, whose playing, so full of grace, of force and expression, was ravishing. I also had Jarnovick, Maestrino, and Prince Henry of Prussia, an excellent amateur, who brought this first violinist besides. Salentin played the hautboy, Hulmandel and Cramer the piano.
Although she was very young then, she nevertheless astonished my friends, who were very hard to please, by her admirable execution, and especially by her expression; she really made the instrument speak. Montgerou has since taken first rank as a pianist, and distinguished herself as a composer. At the time I gave my concerts people had taste and leisure for amusement, and even some years later the love of music was so general that it occasioned a serious quarrel between those who were called Gluckists and Piccinists.
All amateurs were divided into two opposing factions. The usual field of battle was the garden of the Palais Royal. There the partisans of Gluck and the partisans of Piccini went at each other with such violence that there was more than one duel to record. The women who were usually present comprised the Marquise de Grollier, Mme. As for men, the list would be too long to write it down. He can form no opinion of what society once was in France who has not seen the time when, all of the day's business absolved, a dozen or fifteen delightful people met at the house of a hostess to finish their evening.
The ease and the refined merriment which reigned at these light evening repasts gave them a charm which dinners can never have. A sort of confidence and intimacy prevailed among the guests; it was by such suppers that the good society of Paris showed its superiority to that of all Europe. At my house, for instance, we met at about nine o'clock.
No one ever talked politics, but we chatted about literature and told anecdotes of the hour. At ten o'clock we sat down to table. My suppers were of the simplest. They always consisted of some fowl, a fish, a dish of vegetables, and a salad, so that if I succumbed to the temptation of keeping back some visitors there really was nothing more for any one to eat. But that mattered little; the hours passed like minutes, and at midnight the company broke up.
I not only gave suppers at my own house, but frequently supped in town. Sometimes there was dancing, and there was no crowding to suffocation, as there is nowadays. Eight persons only performed the square dances, and the women who were not dancing could at least look on, for the men stood behind them. I often went to spend the evening at M.
We played comedies there, and comic operas. His daughter my sister-in- law sang excellently, and could pass for a good society actress. Laruette, some years retired from the stage, did not disdain our troupe. She played with us in several operas, and her voice was still fresh and fine. In short, all our actors were good — excepting Talma. My saying this will no doubt make my readers laugh. The fact is, that Talma, who acted lovers' parts with us, was so awkward and diffident that no one could then possibly have foreseen how great an actor he would become.
My surprise was therefore very great when I saw our leading man surpass Larive and take the place of Lekain. But the time it took to operate this change, and all of the same kind, proves to me that the dramatic talent takes longer to reach perfection than any other. One evening, when I had invited a dozen or more friends to hear a recital by the poet Lebrun, and while we were waiting for them, my brother read aloud to me a few pages of "Anacharsis. As I was expecting some very pretty women, I conceived the idea of Greek costumes, in order to give M. Boutin a surprise, knowing they would not arrive until ten o'clock.
It happened that he came to see me that evening. I confided my project to him, so that he supplied me with a number of drinking-cups and vases, from among which I took my choice. I cleaned all these articles myself, and arranged them on a table of mahogany without a tablecloth. This done, I put behind the chairs a large screen, which I took the precaution of concealing under some hangings looped up at intervals, as may be seen in Poussin's pictures. A hanging lamp threw a strong light on the table. All was now prepared except my costumes, when Joseph Vernet's daughter, the charming Mme.
Chalgrin, was first to arrive. I immediately took her in hand, doing her hair and dressing her up. And there they were, all three, metamorphosed into veritable Athenians. Lebrun came in; we wiped off his powder, undid his side curls, and put a wreath of laurels on his head. While we sent for a guitar of his, which he had turned into a gilded lyre, I attended to his costume, and then likewise dressed up M. The hour was waxing late. I had little time to think of myself. But as I always wore white gowns in the form of a tunic — now called a blouse — it was sufficient to put a veil and a wreath of flowers on my head.
I took particular pains in costuming my daughter, darling child that she was, and Mlle. Both were ravishing to behold, bearing a very light antique vase, in readiness to serve us with drink. At half past nine the preparations were ended, and at ten we heard the carriage of the Count de Vaudreuil and of Boutin roll in, and when these two gentlemen arrived before the door of the dining-room, whose two leaves I had thrown open, they found us singing Gluck's chorus, "The God of Paphos," with M. Never in all my days have I seen two such astonished faces as those of M.
They were so surprised and delighted that they stood motionless for a long time before they could make up their minds to take the seats we had reserved for them. Besides the two courses I have mentioned, we had for supper a cake made with honey and Corinth raisins, and two dishes of vegetables. I confess that that evening we drank a bottle of old Cyprus wine, which had been presented to me.
But that was the whole of our dissipation. We nevertheless remained a long time at table, where Lebrun recited to us several odes of "Anacreon," which he had translated, and I think I never spent a more amusing evening. Some of the women of the court asked me to repeat the performance. I declined for various reasons, and some of them felt hurt by my refusal. Soon the report spread in society that this supper had cost me twenty thousand francs. Nevertheless, what was estimated at Versailles at the modest price of twenty thousand francs was increased at Rome to forty thousand.
At Vienna the Baroness de Strogonoff informed me that I had spent sixty thousand francs on my Greek supper. Petersburg the sum fixed upon was eighty thousand francs. In reality, the supper had occasioned an outlay of nearly fifteen francs! Although, as I am sure, I was the most harmless creature who ever drew breath, I had enemies. A few years before the Revolution I did the portrait of M. I painted that minister in a sitting position and as far as the knees, which caused Mlle. Arnould to say, when she looked at it: Lebrun cut off his legs, so that he should not get away.
There were a thousand stories circulated as to the payment of the portrait, some asserting that the minister had given me a quantity of sweetmeats wrapped in bank-notes, others that I had received in a pasty a sum large enough to ruin the treasury. The fact is, that M.
Some of the people who were with me when the box arrived can certify this. They were even surprised at the smallness of the amount, for not long before, M. I cared so little about money that I scarcely knew the value of it. The Countess de la Guiche, who is still alive, can affirm that, upon coming to me to have her portrait painted and telling me that she could afford no more than a thousand francs, I answered that M. Lebrun wished me to do none for less than two thousand. My closest friends all know that M. Lebrun took all the money I earned, on the plea of investing it in his business.
I often had no more than six francs in my pocket and in the world. When in I painted the picture of the handsome Prince Lubomirskia, who was then grown up, his aunt, the Princess Lubomirska, remitted twelve thousand francs to me, out of which I begged M. Lebrun to let me keep forty; but he would not let me have even that, alleging that he needed the whole sum to liquidate a promissory note.
My indifference to money no doubt proceeded from the fact that wealth was not necessary to me. Since that which made my house pleasant required no extravagance, I always lived very economically. I spent very little on dress; I was even reproached for neglecting it, for I wore none but white dresses of muslin or lawn, and never wore elaborate gowns excepting for my sittings at Versailles.
My head-dress cost me nothing, because I did my hair myself, and most of the time I wore a muslin cap on my head, as may be seen from my portraits. One of my favourite distractions was going to the play, and I can vow that so many talented actors were on the Paris stage that many of them have had no successors.
I remember perfectly having seen the renowned Lekain act, whose ugliness, monstrous as it was, was not apparent in all his parts.
ejisytoqys.tk: Vigee-Lebrun Vigee-Lebrun: Books
It sometimes happened that Mlle. Dumesnil acted through a portion of the play without producing any impression; then, all of a sudden, she would change; her gestures, her voice and her features all became so intensely tragic that she brought down the house. I was assured that before coming on the stage she was in the habit of drinking a bottle of wine, and that another was held in reserve for her in the wings.
The most brilliant first appearance I can remember was Mlle. Raucourt's in the part of Dido, when she was eighteen or twenty at the most. The beauty of her face, her figure, her voice, her declamation — everything foreshadowed a perfect actress. To so many advantages she added an air of remarkable decency and a reputation of severe morals, which caused her to be sought after by our greatest ladies.
She was presented with jewelry, with theatrical costumes, and with money for herself and her father, who was always with her. Later on she changed her habits very much. Talma, our last great tragic actor, in my opinion surpassed all the others. There was genius in his acting.
It may also be said that he revolutionised the art, in the first place through banishing the bombastic and affected style of delivery by his natural, sincere elocution, and secondly through bringing about an innovation in dress, attiring himself like a Greek or a Roman when he played Achilles or Brutus — for which I was heartily grateful to him. Talma had one of the finest heads and one of the most mobile countenances imaginable, and, however impetuous his acting became, always kept dignified, which seems to me a prime quality in a tragic actor.
He was a very good man, and the best tempered individual in the world. It was his custom to make no fuss in society; in order to make him respond, it needed something in the conversation which would stir one of his deepest interests, and then he was well worth listening to, particularly when he talked about his art. Comedy was perhaps better off still for talent than tragedy.
There, indeed, was the perfect, the inimitable artist! His acting, so clever, so natural, and so full of fun, was at the same time most varied. He would play in turn Crispin, Sosie, and Figaro, and you would not know it was the same man, so inexhaustible were his comic resources. Dugazon, his successor in humorous parts, would have been an excellent comedian if a desire to make the public laugh had not often led him into being farcical.
He played certain parts of valets admirably. Dugazon behaved villainously in the Revolution: Be it observed that this man had been overwhelmed with favours by the court, and especially by the Count d'Artois. I also witnessed Mlle. She was extremely pretty and well made, but did her work so badly at first that no one foresaw what a fine actress she was to become.
Her charming face was not sufficient to protect her from hisses when she played the part confided to her by Beaumarchais, of Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro. At a period when all of the great actors were beginning to age, a young talent arose that to-day is the ornament of the French stage: Mars was then playing the parts of young girls in the most highly accomplished manner; she excelled in that of Victorine in "The Unwitting Philosopher," and in a dozen others in which she never had an equal.
For it was impossible for any one else to be so true to life and so affecting; it was nature at its best. Fortunately, that face, that figure, that bewitching voice are so perfectly preserved that Mlle. Mars has no age, nor, I believe, ever will have, and the public proves every night by its applause that it shares my opinion.
I remember having seen Sophie Arnould twice at the opera, in "Castor and Pollux. As for her abilities as a singer, the music of that epoch disgusted me so that I did not listen to it enough to be able to speak about it now. Arnould was not pretty; her mouth spoiled her face; only her eyes conveyed the cleverness which made her famous. A great number of her witty sayings have been passed round from mouth to mouth or printed. A woman whose superior gifts delighted us for a long time was Mlle. Saint Huberti, whom one must have heard in order to understand how far lyric tragedy can go. Saint Huberti had not only a superb voice, but was also a great actress.
Her good fate ordained that she should sing the operas of Piccini, Sacchini and Gluck, and all this music, so beautiful, so expressive, exactly suited her talent, which was full of significance, of sincerity and of nobility. She was not good-looking, but her face was entrancing because of its soulfulness. The Count d'Entraigues, a very fine, handsome man, and very distinguished through his intellect, fell in love with her and married her. When the Revolution broke out they escaped to London together.
It was there that one evening they were both murdered, without either the murderers or their motives ever being discovered. In the ballet, likewise noted for people with great capabilities, Gardel and Vestris the elder were first. Vestris was tall and imposing, and was not to be excelled in dances of the grave and sedate order.
I could not prescribe the grace with which he took off and put back his hat at the bow preceding the minuet. All the young women of the court took lessons from him, before their presentation, in making the three courtesies. Vestris the elder was succeeded by his son, the most astonishing dancer to be seen, such were his combined gracefulness and lightness. Although our dancers of the present day by no means spare us their pirouettes, certainly no one could ever do as many as he did.
He would suddenly rise toward the sky in such a marvellous manner that one thought he must have wings, and this made old Vestris say, "If my son touches the ground it is only from politeness to his colleagues. Guimard had another sort of talent altogether. Her dancing was only a sketch; she did nothing but take short steps, but executed them with such fascinating motions that the public awarded her the palm over all other female dancers. She was short, slight, very well shaped, and, although plain, her features were such that at the age of forty-five she looked no more than fifteen when on the stage.
Never has such reality been seen upon the stage. The actress disappeared, and gave place to the actual Babet, Countess d'Albert, or Nicolette. Her voice was rather weak, but it was strong enough for laughter, for tears, for all situations, for all parts. No one ever again played Nina like her — Nina, so decent and so passionate at once, and so unhappy and so touching that the mere sight of her made the audience shed tears. Dugazon was a royalist, heart and soul.
Of this she gave the public a proof, when the Revolution was well advanced, in playing the part of the maid in "Unforeseen Events. Dugazon, whose answer was "Ah, how I love my mistress! I was told that the public — and such a public — afterward sought revenge by attempting to make her sing some horrible thing which had come into vogue and was often heard in the theatres.
Dugazon would not yield. She left the stage. I cannot recall a certain incident without laughing, though it annoyed me considerably at the time. Another noted country estate, Gennevilliers, belonged to the Count de Vaudreuil, one of the most amiable of men. The Count de Vaudreuil had bought this property largely for His Highness the Count d'Artois, because it included fine hunting-grounds. The purchaser had done much to embellish the place. The house was furnished in the best taste, and without ostentation; there was a small but charming theatre in the house, where my sister-in-law, my brother, M.
Dugazon, and Garat, Cailleau, and Laruette. The Count d'Artois and his company witnessed our performances. Contat was delightful in the part of Suzanne. Dialogue, couplets, and all the rest were aimed against the court, of which a large part was present. This extravagance benefited no one, but Beaumarchais was none the less intoxicated with joy. As there were complaints of the heat, he allowed no time for the windows to be opened, but smashed all the panes with his walking-stick.
The Count de Vaudreuil came to repent of having given his patronage to the "Marriage of Figaro. This being at once granted, he arrived at Versailles at such an early hour that the Count had only just got up. The dramatist then broached a financial project which he had hatched out, and which was to bring in a vast fortune. He concluded by proposing to hand over to M. The Count listened quite calmly, and when Beaumarchais finished speaking, answered: If you had made such a proposition to me yesterday I would have thrown you out of the window.
Another fine country place I visited was Villette. The Marquise de Villette, nicknamed Lovely and Lovable, having invited me, I went to pass a few days there. On one occasion we found a man painting fences in the park. This painter was working with such expedition that M. I dined several times at Saint Ouen, with the Duke de Nivernais, who owned a very handsome residence there, and who gathered about him the most agreeable company it was possible to meet. The Duke, always praised for his elegant and pointed wit, had manners that were dignified and gentle and without the slightest affectation.
He was particularly distinguished for his extreme civility to women of all ages. In this respect I might speak of him as a model of whom I would never have found a copy if I had not known the Count de Vaudreuil, who, much younger than the Duke de Nivernais, added to his refined gallantry a politeness that was the more flattering since it came from the heart. In fact, it is very difficult to convey an idea to-day of the urbanity, the graceful ease, in a word the affability of manner which made the charm of Parisian society forty years ago. The women reigned then; the Revolution dethroned them.
The Duke de Nivernais was very small and very lean. Although very old when I knew him, he was still full of life; he was passionately fond of poetry, and wrote charming verses. I also dined frequently at the Marshal de Noailles's, in his fine mansion situated at the entrance to Saint Germain.
There was then an immense park there, admirably kept. The Marshal was highly sociable; his cleverness and good spirits infected all his guests, whom he selected from among the literary celebrities and the most distinguished people of the town and the court. It was in that I went for the first time to Louveciennes, where I had promised to paint Mme. She might then have been about forty-five years old. Retrieved 21 November The National Gallery Companion Guide rev. National Gallery Publications Ltd. Retrieved 10 March The Wallace Collection's Pictures: Extracts from The Second Sex.
Self-Portrait with Straw Hat ,