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November 2, 2010

Joyeaux Anniversaire, Marie Antoinette at 255

(click on images to enlarge)

                           My illustration of Marie Antoinette from 
                           REDOUTE, The Man Who Painted Flowers
November 2, 1775 Empress Maria
Teresa, wife of Emperor Francis I
of Austria gave birth to her last 
baby. A little princess named Maria
Antonia Josepha Joanna.
At 14 the girl married the heir to
the King of France. The French
called her Marie Antoinette.
Her husband became King Louis 
XVI five years later. 
Queen Marie Antoinette was not
yet 20.
         Queen Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun
Beginning the illustrations
for my picture book, REDOUTÈ, 
The Man Who Painted Flowers.
I needed to know among other things 
what Redoutè and the people in his life 
looked like. What they wore. What the
objects they used and their surroundings
looked like.
( see more on this in my April 23, 2010
and June 23, 2010 posts)
                              Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun, self portrait
I was helped greatly by the beautiful
portraits of Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun.
Marie Antoinette's favorite portrait
The Queen and her Painter were the
the same age. They shared interests in
their children and pretty clothes among
other things.
I imagine them gossiping and laughing.
The Queen trying to sit still while the
Artist painted.
Marie Antoinette and her children, by Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun
Madame LeBrun painted her younger 
brother an artist as well. In his coat 
and tricorn hat. Leather bag strap 
across his chest. Long hair tied back 
with a soft curl over his ear. Carrying 
artist's tools and his portfolio. The 
Redoutè brothers would have dressed
the same.
Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun's brother, by E. V. LeBrun
I traveled to Belgium, France and England
wanting to see for myself the places Pierre
Joseph Redoutè knew. Some sites no longer
exist, like the Temple Prison, where the
Royal Family were jailed.
detail from an engraving of Paris, France, by Kaspar Merian
Serendipitously, in a left bank 
bookstall in Paris, a book of prints of old
Paris. Included, a detail of the ancient
One night, revolutionary guards brought 
Redoutè to the prison. Ordered to bring his
paints, he was terrified.
There was the Queen, asking him to paint a 
special cactus (Night Blooming Cereus) in
her cell, that bloomed just one night. 
Why her jailers permitted her request, 
no one knows.
But it was the last time Pierre Joseph Redoutè
saw the doomed Queen.

Though so closely associated with the Queen, 
each artist managed to survive the Terror. 
Redoutè because people knew his head was
full of flowers not politics. 
Madame Vigee LeBrun and her daughter escaped
to Italy, Austria and Russia. She continued to
paint exquisite portraits of nobles and aristocrats,
including the Grand Daughters of Catharine the 
Great. (The old Empress died before she could sit
for her Vigee LeBrun portrait).
But that's another story.

If you would like to read more, I strongly recommend
Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun's autobiography,

Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun and Lionel Strachey
Product Details


  1. I can certainly see why Marie Antoinette loved Lebrun's artistry. Her self-portrait shows a gentle, open soul. I adore the portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children draped around her.

    Your interpretation of MA is great - I especially fancy those blue drapes. I'm so impressed with the amount of research you dedicated to this project. I'm sure the on site trips were a true hardship :-D

    I treasure my signed copy of your Redoute book!

  2. Very kind.
    The research trip was one of the best times I've ever had. It was great fun planning and even more fun doing.
    I am at my happiest exploring historical sites and museums. Best part of my job is researching. Lots of
    detective work, shoe leather and meeting like minded
    people in fascinating places.
    My idea of a great time.

  3. Your illustrations are great! Dutchbaby sent me!

  4. Merci beaucoup et bienvenue!

    I also visited your charming site in return.

    And a virtual hug for DB.