Katharine Baetjer

The life and times of a forgotten woman artist


The beautiful, lively, and hugely talented Vigée LeBrun was the subject of a brief profile and slide show a few weeks ago, and response to the story was so positive we decided to do an interview with curator Katharine Baetjer, who has spent virtually her entire career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. An expert in French and British art of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Baetjer tells us more about this remarkable portraitist, who was largely self-taught and brought to court at the age of 23 by the doomed Marie Antoinette.

Vigee LeBrun, Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat with a Plume (1783)

Vigee LeBrun, Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat with a Plume (1783)

Lebrun overcame many of the obstacles for women artists in her day, gaining admission to the royal academy, as well as renown for her charm and hospitality. When her royal subjects and associates lost their heads, she kept hers, fleeing France with her young daughter. She soon established a thriving portrait practice in Italy and Russia and proved a brilliant publicist for her work. After reuniting with her art-dealer husband (though not for love) LeBrun stayed in France for the remainder of her 87 years.

Share This