Julie Louise by Don Druick

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JULIE LOUISE is the story of Élisabeth Vigée LeBrun (1755-1842), portrait painter to the doomed court of Louis XVI. It is her paintings themselves, of her and her daughter, which moved me to want to write this play - they are extraordinarily good. In JULIE LOUISE, Élisabeth establishes a great success for herself as a portrait painter, showing widely in the salons of Paris. She marries an artdealer, Jean Baptiste Pierre LeBrun, and they have one daughter, Julie Louise (1780-1819). The marriage is disastrous: Jean Baptiste is a libertine who robs her, and leaves Élisabeth a single parent. With the fall of the Ancien régime, Élisabeth is slandered in Paris, survives the Terror, and escapes with her life. Impoverished, Julie Louise and Élisabeth live on the run throughout Europe.

The play is related to us by Élisabeth’s daughter, Julie Louise. This is the heart of my play, the difficult relationship, tempestuous and profound, between these two women, mother and daughter. Élisabeth struggles to survive, and is rendered an indifferent parent. Julie feels deprived and resents her mother; she finds an emotional outlet in writing novels, and eventually marries a man her mother despises. This moment establishes a long and painful alienation between the two women; in fact, their reconciliation occurs only after Julie Louise’s sad and lonely death.

In the course of the narration we meet other characters, aside from Élisabeth and Julie Louise, and these include:
Julie’s mentor, the hypnotist Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer;
Julie’s husband, Gaétan Bernard Nigris;
Élisabeth’s artistic rival, Adélaïde Labille Guiard;
the ill-fated Queen of France, Marie Antoinette;
Julie’s father, Jean Baptiste Pierre LeBrun;
Julie’s friend, Tsarina Catherine

The play is both epic and intimate. Its scope is some sixty years, 1780 to 1842, and is variously set in Paris, St-Petersburg, London and Rome. And yet, at the same time, JULIE LOUISE expresses the interior depths of the mind and soul of the protagonist, Julie Louise. Her fiction and madness merge with the outer reality of politics and passion until, at the moment of her death, she cannot distinguish between the two.

Keywords: artists, painters, French revolution, mothers and daughters, portraits, Élisabeth Vigée LeBrun

Year Printed: 2015

Running Time: 100 minutes

Acts: 2

Female Cast: 3