The portrait paintings done by Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1797) in Portrait of a Young Woman and that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1859) in his Bocca Baciata both portray a woman of the 19th century. However, reflecting over the subject, style, and technique (the use of color, strokes, and space), they reflect different backgrounds and attitude, with Vigée-Le Brun (1797) mirroring aristocracy, uprightness, gentleness, and mobility; and Rossetti (1859) consequently portraying sensuality, stillness, patience, and dreariness. Although both used symbols to express features and mannerisms, one used colors and shades to symbolize specific characteristics, while the other used colors, lines, and angles. As an effect, the two painters were able to magnify also the reflecting views and characters of themselves.
Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1797)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859)
Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1797) as well as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859) are both painting portraits of a woman of the 19th century. Despite having been done some sixty years apart, the two portraits reflect women that are similar in some ways, yet different in more ways.
This paper centers on the two paintings done by Vigée-Le Brun (1797) and Rosetti (1859) in two different locations and time—one by a male in England and another done by a female of France—with very different backgrounds and lived really different ways of life. Reflecting over the paintings’ subjects, styles, and techniques (the use of color, strokes, and the organization of pictorial space), it will become evident how and why the painters painted such portraits, as well as how they viewed the two women in their portraits.
Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1797)
The ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ refers to Countess Worontzoff, painted oil in canvas, and stands 32.375 x 27.75 inches (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2008). It is classified as a single portrait of a female, and reflects aristocracy of a Russian noble lady, who was believed to be Countess Irina Ivanovna Worontzov. She was the elder sister of Princess Galitzine: known to be opposite her brilliant sister; yet respected and admired for her being more upright. She is more dedicated on household matters and on the excellent education of her son.
The single portrait was painted solely on an almost empty background of cloudy, bluish sky. Catching the proportion, features, and alignment of the form, the countess was portrayed a little sideways to her right, reflecting her character of being subdued, demure, and gentle. Her upright face reflects aristocracy, while her arms, folded against her bosom, reflect strength and independence, which contradicts the soft and sweet expression of her face. Her swaying hair talks of motion, as if the model is about to glide forward. Dark shades of her plain, silky dark green gown contradict the white muslin scarf that flows from the top of her brown hat that has a plume at the top. The dark shades of her green gown and black shawl are being repeated on the darker shade of the sky at the left side. However, she acts like she is turning her back from the dark portions of the clouds that, in a sense, reflects strength, stability and, at the same time, cowardliness. In the same way, the brighter shade of her white scarf is being repeated on the brighter shades of the sky. The countess is being depicted as if she is in the act of running from wind and rain, and about to glide forward to a place where she can be more secure, secluded, and safe. Yet no sign of fear can be seen in the eyes of the countess… but more on acceptance and weariness.
The technique used by Vigée-Le Brun (1797) was to use colors and shades as symbols that would represent the features, the bearing, and the mannerisms of the form in the painting. The shades in the clouds present the proportion, as it pictures a horizontal line atop the head, while depicting circular paths in the clouds to her right. The brush strokes in the clouds are circular and bending to the left, which is being repeated to the form of the head and the bending plume at the top of the head. The horizontal brushstrokes of the clouds at the bottom part of the platform is proportional to the horizontal shades of the clouds at the top of her head, forming a square, where the main subject is being put right at the middle, which presents greater emphasis, weight, and balance. Brushstrokes that were generally used on the painting were linear and circular. With the more vivid lines of the silky gown contrasting with the more vague lines of the hair, the use of lines, colors, and shades also depict contrast… just like the bearing and the mannerism that are also contrasting. Space used is broad and ample to put more emphasis on the major form that is accentuated in the painting.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859)
The ‘Bocca Baciata’ (Lips That Have Been Kissed) refers to Fanny Cornforth, painted oil on panel, and stands 32.625 x 10.625 inches (Bocca Baciata, 2008). It is classified as a figure painting of a female and reflecting sensuality of a young woman, who appeared many times in the portrait paintings of Rossetti. She was the mistress, the muse, and the housekeeper of Rossetti; born and raised in the small town of Steyning, and belonged to the rural working class of England. Having been born and raised in the countryside, she lacked proper education, which made her become a shock to his friends and family. Representing a romanticized beauty, she embodies an image that gives pure delight to the beholder.
Unlike Vigée-Le Brun’s painting, this figure portrait was painted solely with a full background of a black floral mantle that has colors similar to her open-buttoned garment. The portrait presents the half-body of a red-haired woman, looking straightforward, as if looking at her image in the mirror. Her position depicts stillness and immobility, unlike the painting of Countess Worontzoff, and which may symbolize patience and dreariness. Her red hair is wild and free, reflecting huge amount of hair, which reflects Cornforth’s way of living, and which is opposite the form of Countess Worontzoff. With a flower and ornaments that matched her necklace at her neck, more emphasis is centered on her hair and neck, which is again opposite the one on Countess Worontzoff, wherein the emphasis is well-proportioned throughout the figure. Looking a little sideways to the left (as if looking at herself in the mirror), the picture presents deep thinking and loneliness—not like Countess Worontzoff’s that pictures motion, strength, and stability. The contrasting colors of black and mahogany were mainly used to reflect exotic and glamorous magnificence.
The technique used by Rossetti (1859) was to use colors, lines, angles, and texture to make the picture look full and gorged (unlike the first painting). Similar to the first painting, however, Rossetti also used symbols in expressing himself; yet unlike Vigée-Le Brun who would rather use shades and colors, Rossetti’s way of symbolizing objects was to use lines, shapes, and angles. For example, two strands of hair are lined proportionally to the neck and to the lines of the garment, while the flower at the hair, the apple at the lower right portion, and the hands that are positioned on the lower left portion form a triangular shape that is being reflected on the shape of the hair and head. Triangle may depict femininity, which matches the fleshy appearance of the form in the painting. Similar to the portrait of Countess Worontzoff, however, there is contrast in the colors of her flesh and the black surrounding; yet, unlike the first one, this was not used to symbolize any meaning on her character or her features but to emphasize more her flesh and beauty. Mannerisms are reflected in the expression of the face and the context, and like the painting on Countess Worontzoff, proportion and space are used to gain emphasis on the form.
Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1797) as well as Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Bocca Baciata (1859) are both painting portraits of a woman of the 19th century. At two very two different locations and time, the two painters expressed different backgrounds and attitude that were both reflected on the paintings’ context, style, and technique. While Vigée-Le Brun (1797) mirrored aristocracy, uprightness, mobility, and gentleness, Rossetti (1859) consequently mirrored sensuality, stillness, patience, and dreariness. Although both used symbols to express the consequent features and mannerisms, Vigée-Le Brun (1797) used colors and shades to symbolize the characteristics; Rossetti (1859), on the other hand, used more on colors, lines, and angles in expressing mannerisms that should be accentuated well. And although both used colors and shades to emphasize contrast in expressing the theme, Vigée-Le Brun (1797) used it to symbolize the character of the image, while Rossetti (1859) used it to emphasize ‘his’ character with regards to the image. Lastly, Vigée-Le Brun (1797) used proportion to emphasize again the form, while Rossetti (1859) used it to symbolize his views regarding the character of the form.
By using different subjects, styles, and techniques, the two painters were able to magnify, not only the reflecting images of the women in their portraits, but also the reflecting images of themselves. Vigée-Le Brun (1797) centered more on the personality of her model, even as Rossetti (1859) managed to center more on his personality toward his model. Though they appear to be rather similar, the two paintings ended up to be incredibly different.
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