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Vigee Le Brun

ARTIST : Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun (1755-1842)

PAINTING : Self-Portrait with Daughter Julie (1789)

EXHIBITION : Plate 12 in book Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun by Gita May (Yale University Press, 2005)


Julie, Age Nine

The girl will not be pried away,
arms around her mother’s neck.
Last night’s dreams were terrifying~~

shouting and running and cannon fires.
Now this morning in softest light,
the girl will not be pried away

from beside her mother’s bedroom chair~~
a child too old for lap or breast,
but not for sleep that terrifies.

How warily she turns her eyes
to meet our gaze, a look suggesting
she yearns to pry her mother away

from painting’s hold on royalty:
Ma mere a peint Marie Antoinette.
Liberty’s dreams bring terrible nights

in this year of seventeen eighty-nine
when history demands a letting go.
But no little girl can be pried away
from dreams of queens so terrified.


by Therese L. Broderick



About ThereseLBroderick

Independent community poet living in Albany, New York USA.

One response »


    My goal when composing any poem is to craft a passage of spoken language which is supersaturated in both sound and sense.


    This poem is a modified villanelle. This highly-patterned form requires many instances of repetition : rhymes and entire phrases. I don’t use perfect rhymes; however, I use the short “e” sound in “neck… softest… breast… Antoinette… letting” ; and I use variants of the long “i” sound somewhere near the last word of the other lines.


    Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun was a prominent French artist who painted portraits of Marie Antoinette (among many others). This painting was finished in 1789, the year that both mother and daughter fled Paris, their lives in jeopardy. Although the embracing mother and daughter in this painting seem happy and safe, I detect a clinging vigilance that I interpret as anxiety; therefore, I adopt the tightly involuted form of the villanelle. The words of the two refrains evoke the personal and historical situations that threaten the family’s security. The attire, hair, and soft light in this painting suggest to me that the scene takes place in a bedroom at morning, but I’m not certain. The words in italics are what I imagine Julie to think, not a verified quote. Because the painting’s title varies from source to source, the title I cite in this blog entry may not be authoritative.

    One fascinating observation about the villanelle form was made in the poem “Juice” by Frank Giampietro : “They say you can let the arms / of the repeating lines / wrap themselves around you / for comfort.” So in my poem here, the content within the hugging form of the poem presents an image of hugging.


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