Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This is a rococo painting. This French style of art and design began in the early 18th century. It is generally associated with the aristocracy, or the ruling social class.
- Rococo portraitists (portrait painters) made their subjects look graceful and elegant.
- Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was a self-taught French artist known for painting rococo portraits. She became a professional artist in her early teens. She went on to paint portraits of royal figures and other famous people.
- The man depicted in this portrait was a respected political figure in Russia.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was a self-taught French painter. She began painting portraits professionally when she was in her early teens. Her subject matter and pastel color palette are considered to be rococo in style. Rococo art and design originated in Paris in the early 18th century. This style is often associated with the aristocracy.
When she was 23 years old, Vigée Le Brun was commissioned to paint a portrait of Marie Antoinette (the last queen of France before the French Revolution). Vigée Le Brun is said to have been Marie Antoinette’s favorite portrait painter. She was often hired to paint portraits of European rulers, aristocrats, and well-known writers and actors.
Vigée Le Brun’s ties with the French royal family gave her access to institutions that generally excluded women. In 1783 she became a member of the French Académie. She was one of only 15 women to be granted full membership in the Académie between 1648 and 1793. After the French Revolution, her connection with the royal family forced her into exile. She left France and continued to work as a successful portrait painter throughout Europe. She painted this portrait of Ivan Shuvalov while she was living in Russia.
Shuvalov was a respected political figure in Russia and the founder of the Russian Academy of Arts. He started out as a page (a youth attendant to a person of rank) of the Russian royal court. Later he became Queen Elizabeth of Russia’s lover. Shuvalov was an intellectual who promoted new enlightenment ideals in art and science.
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