Explore Self portrait in a Straw Hat by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Self portrait in a Straw Hat by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

In this episode, we’ll be taking a closer look at ‘Self-portrait in a Straw Hat’ by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun at the National Gallery in London. Welcome to Art, Culture & Books with me, Anthony King.

As always, I take all the photos and videos myself on location, ensuring you get an up-close and personal view of the fascinating world of art and culture. I’ll be popping in and out with commentary as this video progresses but for now let’s take a close up look.

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was born in 1755 and was a trailblazing female artist of her time, known for her exceptional skill and the ability to navigate the male-dominated art world. She lived through a tumultuous era in French history.

Before the French Revolution in 1789, Vigée Le Brun was very successful, especially at the Versailles court. Marie-Antoinette favoured her as a painter, and Vigée Le Brun created over 30 portraits of the Queen and her family.

The oil on canvas completed in 1782, “Self-portrait in a Straw Hat” is a striking example of her mastery in portraiture which is even more incredible considering she was mainly self taught! This version of the painting is a signed copy by Vigėe Le Brun, recreating a highly popular self-portrait she herself originally painted in Brussels, also in 1782.

The painting captures the artist in a moment of self-reflection and confidence, wearing a straw hat adorned with a pink ribbon. The loose brushstrokes and vibrant colour palette demonstrate her technical prowess. The National Gallery tell us that the pose is deliberately modelled on Rubens’s Portrait of Susanna Lunden.

Vigée Le Brun wrote of the painting in her memoirs which were published in 1903:

We returned to Flanders to see the masterpieces of Rubens… at Antwerp, I found the famous “Straw Hat,” which has lately been sold to an Englishman for a large sum. This admirable picture represents a woman by Rubens. It delighted and inspired me to such a degree that I made a portrait of myself at Brussels, striving to obtain the same effects. I painted myself with a straw hat on my head, a feather, and a garland of wild flowers, holding my palette in my hand.”

“Self-portrait in a Straw Hat” is celebrated for its departure from traditional self-portraiture conventions of the time. Vigée Le Brun presents herself with a direct gaze, showcasing her self-assuredness and challenging the viewer to engage with her on a more personal level.