Memoirs of Madame Vigee-Lebrun - Chapter 2 — Up …

My marriage was kept secret for some time. M. Lebrun, who was supposed to marry the daughter of a Dutchman with whom he did a great business in pictures, asked me to make no announcement until he had wound up his affairs. To this I consented the more willingly that I did not give up my maiden name without regret, particularly as I was so well known by that name. But the keeping of the secret, which did not last long, was nevertheless fraught with disastrous consequences for my future. A number of people who simply believed that I was merely considering a match with M. Lebrun came to advise me to commit no such piece of folly. Auber, the crown jeweller, said to me in a friendly spirit: "It would be better for you to tie a stone to your neck and jump into the river than to marry Lebrun." Another day the Duchess d'Aremberg, accompanied by Mme. de Canillas, and Mme. de Souza, the Portuguese Ambassadress, all very young and pretty, came to offer their belated counsels a fortnight after the knot had been tied. "For heaven's sake," exclaimed the Countess, "on no account marry M. Lebrun! You will be miserable if you do!" And then she told me a lot of things which I was happy enough to disbelieve, but which only proved too true afterward. The announcement of my marriage put an end to these sad warnings, which, thanks to my dear painting, had little effect on my usual good spirits. I could not meet the orders for portraits that were showered upon me from every side. M. Lebrun soon got into the habit of pocketing my fees. He also hit upon the idea of making me give lessons in order to increase our revenues. I acceded to his wishes without a moment's thought.

Memoirs of Madame Vigee-Lebrun - Chapter 3 — …

One evening, when I had invited a dozen or more friends to hear a recital by the poet Lebrun, and while we were waiting for them, my brother read aloud to me a few pages of "Anacharsis." Arriving at the place where, in the description of a Greek dinner, the method of preparing various sauces is explained, "We ought," said my brother, "to try this to-night." I at once ordered up my cook and instructed her properly, deciding that she was to make a certain sauce for the chicken and another for the eel. As I was expecting some very pretty women, I conceived the idea of Greek costumes, in order to give M. de Vaudreuil and M. Boutin a surprise, knowing they would not arrive until ten o'clock. My studio, full of things I used for draping my models, would furnish me with enough material for garments, and the Count de Parois, who lived in my house in the Rue de Cléry, owned a superb collection of Etruscan pottery. It happened that he came to see me that evening. I confided my project to him, so that he supplied me with a number of drinking-cups and vases, from among which I took my choice. I cleaned all these articles myself, and arranged them on a table of mahogany without a tablecloth. This done, I put behind the chairs a large screen, which I took the precaution of concealing under some hangings looped up at intervals, as may be seen in Poussin's pictures. A hanging lamp threw a strong light on the table. All was now prepared except my costumes, when Joseph Vernet's daughter, the charming Mme. Chalgrin, was first to arrive. I immediately took her in hand, doing her hair and dressing her up. Then came Mme. de Bonneuil, so remarkable for her beauty, and Mme. Vigée, my sister-in-law, who, without being pretty, had the most beautiful eyes imaginable. And there they were, all three, metamorphosed into veritable Athenians. Lebrun came in; we wiped off his powder, undid his side curls, and put a wreath of laurels on his head. Then the Marquis de Cubières arrived. While we sent for a guitar of his, which he had turned into a gilded lyre, I attended to his costume, and then likewise dressed up M. de Rivière, and Chaudet, the famous sculptor.


The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun – Chapter 4: Exile

My stepfather having retired from business, we took up residence at the Lubert mansion, in the Rue de Cléry. M. Lebrun had just bought the house and lived there himself, and as soon as we were settled in it I began to examine the splendid masterpieces of all schools with which his lodgings were filled. I was enchanted at an opportunity of first-hand acquaintance with these works by great masters. M. Lebrun was so obliging as to lend me, for purposes of copying, some of his handsomest and most valuable paintings. Thus I owed him the best lessons I could conceivably have obtained, when, after a lapse of six months, he asked my hand in marriage. I was far from wishing to become his wife, though he was very well built and had a pleasant face. I was then twenty years old, and was living without anxiety as to the future, since I was already earning a deal of money, so that I felt no manner of inclination for matrimony. But my mother, who believed M. Lebrun to be very rich, incessantly plied me with arguments in favour of accepting such an advantageous match. At last I decided in the affirmative, urged especially by the desire to escape from the torture of living with my stepfather, whose bad temper had increased day by day since he had relinquished active pursuits. So little, however, did I feel inclined to sacrifice my liberty that, even on my way to church, I kept saying to myself, "Shall I say yes, or shall I say no?" Alas! I said yes, and in so doing exchanged present troubles for others. Not that M. Lebrun was a cruel man: his character exhibited a mixture of gentleness and liveliness; he was extremely obliging to everybody, and, in a word, quite an agreeable person. But his furious passion for gambling was at the bottom of the ruin of his fortune and my own, of which he had the entire disposal, so that in 1789, when I quitted France, I had not an income of twenty francs, although I had earned more than a million. He had squandered it all.