Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755–1842 Paris)
Head of a Woman, 1784
Pastel on faded blue paper
12 × 9 7/8 in. (305 × 248 mm)
Promised Gift from the Collection of Elizabeth and Jean-Marie Eveillard
Photo Joseph Coscia Jr.
A celebrated portrait painter, Vigée Le Brun witnessed major political and social changes during her seven-decades-long career. She traveled extensively through some of the most important European courts and was well known for her portraits, becoming, in the 1780s, one of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s favorite painters. As a young woman, she trained with her father, Louis Vigée, an established pastellist. She later worked primarily in oil but never fully abandoned the technique her father had taught her. In the 1780s, Vigée Le Brun created a number of pastel heads, preparatory for allegorical and mythological paintings. Signed and dated 1784, this drawing of a female head was probably made as a model for an allegorical figure for an oil painting—either lost or never executed.
Curator's Personal Reflection
Speaker: Xavier F. Salomon, Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator
Very few works by women artists are represented at the Frick, so we are particularly thrilled to have this pastel sketch in the collection—all the more so because it is by one of the towering female painters of the eighteenth century, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was trained by her father, a celebrated pastellist, and in this small work you see her dexterity with the medium. You can imagine the beautiful model posing for the painter, her head slightly tilted, as the artist mentally transformed her into an allegorical figure for use in a grand painting. I doubt we will ever know who the model is and what she was meant to represent. That, to me, adds to the fascination of this work.