Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s Self-Portrait with her Daughter, Julie

Self-Portrait with her Daughter, Julie c. 1789

Recognized as the most important female painter of the 18th century, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun is a Rococo painter who showed fondness in the subject of portraiture and Neoclassical paintings. It was in that century that she created one of her many self-portraits with her only child, Jeanne Julie Louise, whom she simply called “Julie”. In this self-portrait, Vigée Le Brun is sitting and has both of her hands around her daughter while her daughter is standing and embracing her back. Both of them are facing forward, straight to the viewers of the painting but still, the tenderness of a mother-daughter relationship can be seen through both of their positions and peaceful facial expressions (as can be seen in the photo of the painting above). This famous Rococo painter and portraitist had created numerous self-portraits of her and her daughter as she was growing up. This particular painting was done during 1783 to 1789 when Vigée Le Brun was most productive, having been able to exhibit more than forty portraits and historical creations. Julie was nine years old.

The portrait, as I see it, is very simple – no fancy background or anything that would divert a viewer’s attention from the real subject which is the tender embrace between a mother and a daughter. In my case, it is this simplicity that made this painting easy to recall and pinpoint when I saw it in a movie that I watched not so long ago. The movie I am talking about does not revolve around this painting, as a matter of fact it was just for one scene of about 10-20 seconds short, but it was astounding enough how this work of art appeared at the perfect time and place in the movie. Tuck Everlasting is the movie I am pertaining to.

Tuck Everlasting’s Official Movie Poster

A 2002 film adapted from a fantasy children’s book of the same title by Natalie Babbitt. The story is a work of fiction where a family, the Tucks, had mistakenly drank from a spring in the forest which made them immortals all of a sudden. One day, Winifred Foster – an only daughter of a wealthy and very strict couple – ran away from their home, wandered in the forest, and ended up in the spring where she met one of the Tucks. This was her first encounter of the outside world, being raised from a restrictive family. She grew up being told what she must do, especially by her mom who was very firm and authoritative to the point that she seemed emotionless. But things changed, and this is where Vigée Le Brun’s self-portrait with her daughter Julie was shown, when her mother’s mother gradually passed away in bed. Just as the doctor left them offering no more hope but acceptance, Winifred’s mom held her mother’s hand, took the covers, and slowly made her way beside her dying mom, crying and hugging her lovingly. The painting was put in juxtaposition with that scenario, both of which are hugging, clearly showing the mutual love between a mother and a daughter.

Vigée Le Brun’s self-potrait with her daughter Julie in juxtaposition

with the mother and her daughter in the movie

That was the first time Winifred saw her mother full with not just emotions but grief specifically. Later when her grandmother had already been buried, she saw her mom crying again and they talked everything out. Apparently, her mother put a tight grip on her hoping that it would make her stay the same, always the little girl she once was. Maybe this was also the reason why Vigée Le Brun painted so many portraits of her and her daughter – in a way she wanted to stop her daughter from growing up. But in reality, no one is really able to do that so she did it her way – through her painting expertise which she used as a tool to capture and freeze the moments when she needed to.

In conclusion, it is fascinating that film makers of today still take into account details like paintings to convey more effectively the emotions needed to be shown in a certain scenario. But still, one must be cautious in putting these works of art in display considering that these paintings have also hidden meanings within themselves. So long as the works of art do not get compromised for the sake of another work of art, I think all of these works can go well together regardless of period or style.

 – RABINO, Kathlene L.