100 Days of Art History Jinjins


Marie Antoinette, after 1783

This reference image is actually ALSO a master copy! But I think the copy is actually what I referenced in order to do my version anyway. Let's talk about the original.

The original painting is by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, a prolific French court painter with a rich career. This is the second painting I did by her (The first one is Entry 19). She seems to have been bubbly and sociable as well as a skilled painter, and did several portraits of Marie Antoinette.

This particular painting was actually quite scandalous. Marie Antoinette was dressed in the latest fashion, wearing gauzy cotton muslin. The cotton muslin was seen as risque since it was more similar to the underwear of the time than regular clothes. There was immediate backlash--people thought she looked slutty. The French court also was concerned that she was wearing all cotton, seen as an unpatriotic English fabric since most cotton came from English colonies in India. Immediately after this painting was exhibited, Le Brun actually had to paint Marie Antoinette with a Rose, another painting of her in the exact same pose, in more "normal" formal court dress because the backlash was so strong.

The plot thickens. After this painting, this style of cotton dress exploded in popularity, leading to huge demand for cotton. There were other factors too--there was a vogue for simple "classical" style Greco-Roman clothing brought on by the Enlightenment, and once the French Revolution hit silk was seen as too luxurious and cotton more appropriate--but Marie Antoinette was one of the most visible participants in this trend. That demand for cotton ended up being fulfilled by American cotton, picked and processed by slaves. And as demand for cotton went up, the slave trade increased to keep up. This Racked article (where I got a lot of this info from) has even more detail and is worth a read.

Reference image found at the American National Gallery of Art's Website. The original painting is in The Met.

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