Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun's father, a portrait painter, died when she was twelve, so she taught herself to paint by copying the paintings of established masters in collections around Paris. Later in life, after studying the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, she adopted his technique of painting layers of brilliant color on wood panels to achieve animated, polished, and supremely attractive portraits of European royalty and aristocracy.
In 1778 Vigée Le Brun painted a portrait of the queen, Marie-Antoinette, and soon became her close friend and supporter. Through her relationship with the queen, Vigée Le Brun realized her greatest ambition: membership in the prestigious and almost entirely male Académie Royale. Vigée Le Brun had a flair for innovative poses, an unerring instinct for costume, and the ability to capture a likeness with relative ease.
With the outbreak of the French Revolution, Vigée Le Brun was forced to flee France for twelve years. She traveled throughout Europe, painting numerous portraits for aristocratic families from Russia to Italy. During her lifetime, Vigée Le Brun was recognized as one of Europe's foremost portrait painters. The high fees she charged allowed her to retire in comfort upon her return to France in 1805, when she remarked that her "...only true happiness has been in painting."