An Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun Portrait of A Polish Countess: “Pretty as an Angel, But Most Stupid”


The artist had a low opinion of her subject; hopefully she kept her thoughts to herself and concentrated on her painting. Nelie Jacquemart-Andre must have liked this portrait a lot; she hung it in her boudoir, now a room in the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, close to her luxurious bathtub (Nelie loved soaking in the tub). The subject is the Countess Skavronskaia, wife of the Polish Ambassador to Italy.  The artist is Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, who gained fame and fortune as the official painter for Marie Antoinette and her gilded circle of friends. The artist fortunately left France just before the French Revolution.  Her reputation and talent led her through the courts of Europe.

During her stay in Naples in 1790, Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun painted this young countess.  The artist remarked in her journal, “The Countess was as mild and pretty as an angel,” but “she had no education, and her conversation was most stupid.”  Still, the artist, like everyone else, fell under the irresistible charm of this sweet young woman.  That charm shines through the portrait. Her lovely face is an island of warmth in the painting, all cool blues and greens. Is that a mirror in her hand? The artist must have allowed herself this small comment on her subject. Today’s equivalent might be a supermodel with no thought other than her own beauty. But sheer niceness always counts for something.

There’s a better image of the Countess on the website of the Musee Jacquemart-Andre at

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

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