Self-Portrait with Her Daughter

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Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Self-Portrait with Her Daughter, 1789
By ISABEL THOMAS

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun’s Self-Portrait with Her Daughter embodies the compassion of the human spirit. Vigée-Lebrun captures a warm, gentle embrace between her subjects in a painting that exudes softness. Any buyer would want these two beautiful faces to grace his or her wall. Vigée-Lebrun, the painting’s mother in more ways than one, dons a costume reminiscent of classical times -- only one way that the artist alludes to painting’s past.

Vigée-Lebrun perfectly executes the triangular composition of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and calls upon the Masters of the Italian Renaissance. Partnered with the anatomical accuracy of her subjects, this technique demonstrates the artist’s proficiency. Vigée-Lebrun possesses this knowledge and talent despite her restricted opportunity as a female painter. Her determination alone gives Vigée-Lebrun artistic merit and creates value in her work.

Known for her Rococo color palette, Vigée-Lebrun uses an emotional combination of warm and cool hues in Self-Portrait with Her Daughter. The green cloth over the mother’s lap represents fertility and renewal of herself through her child. The daughter’s blue dress symbolizes tranquility, loyalty, and trust -- emotions mirrored in her facial expression. Passionate red accents in the mother’s ensemble stand out and cut through the cool colors.

The painting’s empty gray background pushes its subjects forward -- Vigée-Lebrun masterfully creates depth and shape in a painting with no scene. Small details, such as the mother’s blush and curls, further illustrate the artist’s ability. More powerful than her composition, though, is the emotion that Vigée-Lebrun develops in this painting; the protective mother and trusting daughter share an undeniable, heart-warming closeness.

Vigée-Lebrun’s decision to include her daughter in a self-portrait indicates the importance of their relationship. Artists regularly look directly at their audiences when included in their own paintings; since she paints her daughter doing the same, Vigée-Lebrun represents her child as part of herself. Vigée-Lebrun’s daughter is a living self-portrait. The artist gives a circular shape to the embrace between child and parent, representing the stages of life clinging together in a perpetual cycle. In Self-Portrait with Her Daughter, Vigée-Lebrun communicates that she will live on through her children as well as her art.

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