Strike a Pose

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who was in high demand for portraits during the 1780's, had a waiting list of well to do clientele.

After painting so many duchesses and dukes, it is not surprising to find a niche.  What is a sitter's best angle? To smile or not to smile? Feathers and pearls or lots of diamonds and velvet?  What pose is most flattering to what type of lady?

One pose she had success with was a side-way turn, where the sitter appears to be moving forward, but glancing to the side at the viewer.  Some advantages to this pose include showing off a tiny waste, creating a dynamic composition with plenty of movement (think fabric and hair) and still capturing the face - the most intriguing part of the portrait. The figures engage the viewers and the viewers can examine and appreciate person before them.

 Vigée Le Brun. Mme. Molé Raymond, 1786. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.

Some ladies who struck this pose for Le Brun include Madame Molé Raymond whose portrait was finished in 1786.    Mme. Molé Raymond appears to be hustling by us, in a rush to hit the shops or something equally diverting, her hair, feathers and ribbons around her waist flutter in the air as she moves. I adore this gown, a lavender silk over dress with an amazing teal pop underneath.  Her chapeau matches of course! She glances out at the viewer and smiles with wide eyes.  She acknowledges us by raising her muff up and holding it slight to the side.  She could turn towards us at any moment!

Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of a Woman, 1797. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts.

Similarly, in 1797, Le Brun painted a Portrait of a Woman, said to be her daughter but now thought to be the Countess Irina Ivanovna Worontzoff née Izmaïloff.  (Still unconfirmed!) The lady's pose mimics Mme. Molé Raymond, turned in the other direction and caught in a moment of motion.  She is wrapped tightly in her shawl, wearing a green silk gown with a gold spun sheen, and the overcast sky leads us to believe it is a chilly spring or autumn day.  She is not as forward with us; her smile more demure and her hat, outfit and hair more modest, as appropriate for the period.  She is really quite stunning.


  1. While touring The Louvre this summer, I made a beeline for the LeBrun portraits. She is so intriguing -- a woman ahead of her time both artistically and socially. Thanks for this lovely tribute to an amazing role model.

  2. Great post! I adore Vigee LeBrun. I think her portraits were some of the finest of any era. Her subjects always appear so alive and filled with personality.

  3. So enjoyed this post...
    I'm reading her biography at the moment by Françoise Pitt-Rivers...a fabulous destiny !

  4. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Whats the title of the biography? btw, i heard some hollywood producers are making a movie about her life! that would be fantastic! LeBrun is like the Leibovitz of her time! her portraits are classic!

  5. Madam Vigée Le Brun is one of my favorite artist. I love the wall with her work at the Louvre. I have been lucky to see a great deal of her wok in Museums.

  6. I have to think of Emma Hamilton, when I see those poses ^^

  7. @Jennie@GotmyReservations Glad you liked the post! I also love her work, I would quite like a portrait of myself in Le Burn's manner!

    @Victoria Agreed! She does well with eyes, I think that really makes the figures sparkle.

    @My Castle in Spain How is the biography so far??

  8. @Anonymous ! Tell me more about this movie- That would be amazing! What a great idea...

    @Andrew1860 What is your favorite quality about a Le Brun painting? I need to see more up close.

    @Tinka good comparison! Reminds me of these classic poses