Memoirs of Madame Vigee Lebrun

Lionel Strachey, Translator, John Russell, Introduction by George Braziller $17.5 (260p) ISBN 978-0-8076-1222-4
This spellbinding first-person narrative, a reissue of the 1903 edition, has all the elements of a successful novel: its charismatic heroine (1756-1842) is an eminent and exceptionally productive portrait painter on intimate terms with the French royal family at the dawn of the Revolution; leaving behind a ne'er-do-well husband (whom she had romantically and foolishly married in secret) as well as a coterie of artists, she flees the Terror and supports her daughter and herself by painting the nobility in the capitals of Europe. Vigee Lebrun's painterly talent for observation results in an irresistible (and nearly always admiring) account of historic figures at an epochal moment. A gifted gossip, she does not stint on anecdotes (``Louis XVIII sang more out of tune than anyone in the whole world. `How do you think I sing?' he asked me one day. `Like a prince, Your Highness' ''). Although few will share her politics--``The common people of Russia are in general ugly, but . . . they are the best creatures in the world . . . they often reminded me of what someone said about the beginning of the Revolution: `If their bonds are taken off they will be much more unhappy!' ''--fewer still will want to put this book down. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 07/01/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
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