Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Art

Major Professor

Elisabeth Fraser, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Helena Szepe, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Melissa Hyde, Ph.D.

Keywords

Catherine the Great, Eighteenth-century painting, Empress Maria Fedorovna, French Émigrés, Princess Anna Alexandrovna Golitsyna, Vigée-Lebrun

Abstract

In the last few decades interest in the life and work of Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun has increased significantly, with numerous publications and a retrospective exhibition dedicated to her oeuvre. Yet, while much new and valuable information has been introduced, very little of it deals specifically with the period from 1795-1800 when she lived as an émigré in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

In this thesis I analyze two Russian portraits by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, in relation to two earlier works she painted in Paris, the duchesse d’Orleans (1789) and Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (1783), elucidating the overt similarities to her earlier portraiture practice and exploring the cultural and political climate in which they were created. I argue that the Imperial family as well as the upper echelons of Russian society actively utilized imagery associated with the Ancien Régime to depict a perceived stability at a time when much of Europe was in flux. This political maneuver afforded Vigée-Lebrun the opportunity to live and work in a society similar to the one she left behind in Paris, Russia served thus as a surrogate for Ancien Régime France.

In addition to examining the socio political climate of Russia, I consider portraiture practices in general, noting opposing trends that were developing contemporaneously elsewhere in Europe and review Vigée-Lebrun’s unusual status as an émigré. By contextualizing Princess Anna Alexandrovna Golitsyna and Empress Maria Fyodorovna I provide reasoning for her surprising level of success in Saint Petersburg while simultaneously highlighting the importance of this period in Vigée-Lebrun scholarship.

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