Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was a French painter, active from the late 18th to the first half of the 19th century, mainly in her native France but also in Russia, Italy, Prussia and England. She left a legacy of over 800 works, mostly portraits. Her best-known works are perhaps her portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette. She left a detailed description of her life and career in her memoirs, which she wrote in the 1830s, and which provide plenty of evidence with which to type her.
Élisabeth showed an aptitude for drawing and painting already in her
childhood, which was encouraged by her father, himself a painter. As a
teenager she was already painting portraits professionally, increasingly attracting attention in Paris and eventually being commissioned by the
Queen, Marie Antoinette, to paint several portraits of her and of her
children. Although herself of a family of relatively modest means, her
easy access to the Versailles court and the favor she received from the
king and queen led her to flee France in 1789, afraid of being seen as a
high-profile royalist (already receiving threats on the street, as she
She had (reluctantly, as she said)
married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, an artist and art dealer, with
whom she had a daughter, Julie. She fled France with Julie while her
husband remained behind.
Louise Élisabeth moved
first to Rome, then to Vienna, and then to the court of Catherine the
Great in St Petersburg, remaining in Russia throughout the short reign
of her son Paul and the beginning of the reign of Alexander I. By then,
in 1801, after the Terror and in the more stable early years of Napoleon
Bonaparte's government, she finally felt that it was safe to return to
She was fortunate in being able to move
easily between countries, at that time, since her fame, talent, and
connections always assured her a warm welcome, protection, and
employment as a painter, whenever she went. That was important
especially as she left France in 1789 with very little money.
feeling quite at home in Paris, any more after returning from Russia, and
pained by the memory of several acquaintances who had been guillotined
during the Terror, she spent a few years in England and Switzerland,
before returning definitely to France where she remained until her death
Vigée Le Brun stated at the start of her
memoirs that she was writing them at the request of a friend, but that
she'd also find it easy since her memories of all the people she had
known (and who were now dead) were always around her and that such
memories kept her company, so to speak. Her memoirs are a
straightforward narration of the events in her life in strict
chronological order, but centered on the individuals she knew and the
relationships she had with them. From the memoirs, her main way of
looking at the world, and her life, was very clearly through her
relationships with individuals. That already points to R as a very
Although a key eyewitness to
important historical events, like the beginning of the French Revolution
and events surrounding the murder of the Tsar Paul, Louise Élisabeth
was not interested in them as historical events, even as she described
how she experienced them. Indeed, she describes that when she first
heard in Italy the news of the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette,
she immediately refused to hear or read anything about the
circumstances leading to such events, a stance she kept for decades.
She was obviously a royalist in the sense that she missed
pre-revolutionary France and was appalled by the Terror, but at no point
does she focus on the larger events or trends in those periods. It is
difficult, or rather impossible, to perceive any kind of ideology or
political analysis in her views of historical events apart from how they
affected her personally and individuals she was attached to. That
suggests R as much stronger than L.
individuals, she focuses not only on their characters and her
relationships but on their physical appearance. After that, her main
focus in her memoirs is in physical descriptions of the places she was
visiting and of details of the daily life there. This is to be expected
from a painter but in any case it shows a focus on S and perhaps blocked with P.
describing individuals, she - mostly - tries to focus on those of
whom she has pleasant memories and tries to avoid digressing at length
people whom she disliked or who gave her painful or ambiguous feelings.
For instance, she gives very little information on her husband, whom she
- as she said - married reluctantly. From the little she says about
him, it is clear that although he could be protective of her during
crises and was by no means cruel or violent to her, he also spent pretty
much all the money she earned through her work, either investing it
unwisely or in gambling. So, not being able to say much good about him
but obviously not thinking that she could or should bash him too much,
she says little, even as she - very obviously - clearly preferred to
have married someone who was wiser and fairer in financial matters. She
is far more willing to say negative things about her stepfather, whom
she "detested" and found "odious", but, again, she mentions him only
when she has to.
This already suggests a more Delta
(R+I) approach to relationships than Gamma (R+F). She refuses to pretend
to have a good opinion of individuals when she clearly does not'; but,
overwhelmingly, her preferred stance is to focus on people positively if
possible. For instance, she observed closely Tsar Paul of Russia. She
reports how everyone in St. Petersburg was terrified of him, including
herself, due to his tyrannical behaviour, but she also points out how he
was always kind and courteous to her personally.
subject that is mostly missing in her memoirs is the "nuts and bolts" of her
life, especially her financial situation. She mentions how, in France,
her husband would pocket (and spend) most of what she earned, but, at
the same time, she admits that that - mostly - did not bother her as her
own tastes and lifestyle were extremely low-cost and she knew she could
always earn money through her work, even if that meant moving between
countries. Except when she was getting older and starting to worry about
retirement, throughout her life she showed little concern with
accumulating wealth. That shows, again, the more Delta approach to P and
S matters rather than the P and F Gamma approach. There is overall
very little focus on P in her memoirs, except in the sense that she
tries to describe what was really happening separately from how she felt
Finally, Louise Élisabeth was in the
unique position of a person who moved easily among individuals of the
highest social status and wealth, including royalty, while herself being
of a rather modest social status. She seemed to be mostly unaware of,
or unconcerned with that, although sometimes afraid of monarchs
themselves. Only once does she remark how an aristocratic lady sitting
near her decided to completely ignore her. This suggests a very low
focus on F.
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun shows the
Delta values of R, I, S and P while showing little inclination for F
and L. The most obvious element in her memoirs is R coupled with I,
followed by S. Everything fits R1, I2, S6, F4 and P5. That is, an EII.
Recommended reading and sources: her memoirs are available online, also in (possibly incomplete) English translation.
To learn more about EII, click here.
If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.