Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Painting of the Day: “Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante” by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790

Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790
Lady Lever Art Gallery
Liverpool, England

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was the foremost female painter of the Eighteenth Century. Her lavish Rococo paintings with Neoclassical overtones were favored by the French court and she was quickly appointed as the official portrait painter of Marie Antoinette. Later, Le Brun worked in Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia.

This unusual portrait in the artist’s characteristic style dates to Le Brun’s later career in Europe. The subject is Lady Hamilton (Emma Hart) who was a beautiful and outgoing working class girl whose friendly personality, good looks and charm made her a popular mistress of many a wealthy and important gentleman. She was shuffled from man to man over decades and ended up the wife of the much older Sir William Hamilton. During her marriage, in order to keep herself busy, she started entertaining her friends with her “attitudes.” These “attitudes” were a series of tableau-like theatrical poses wherein Lady Hamilton dressed as a variety of historical or mythological characters.

Le Brun has depicted Lady Hamilton in one of her more popular “attitudes,” that of a Bacchante or a mythical companion of Dionysus, god of wine and mystic ecstasy. Behind her, a smoking Mount Vesuvius can be seen and refers to Lady Hamilton’s time in Naples.

This is one of several portraits Le Brun painted of Lady Hamilton in her attitudes. Always an agreeable model, Lady Hamilton sat for a variety of artists.

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