Wednesday, December 14, 2016

1883-1956: Marie Laurencin, French

Marie Laurencin was a French multi-disciplinary artist who was a famous figure in Paris through the first half of the 20th century. She is best known as a painter, but she also designed costumes and sets for ballets, and she was in great demand as a book illustrator.

Background: Marie was was born and raised in Paris, the only child of an unwed mother; her father was a government official, but he was already married to another woman when she was born. He made infrequent visits that Marie found repugnant. None of my sources indicate how Marie's mother supported herself and the child, so I'm assuming the father took responsibility for that.

Training: Marie had proper, middle class schooling. She is said to have been an indifferent student, but an avid reader. When she began drawing at an early age, her mother discouraged her efforts and destroyed her drawings because she wanted Marie to be a teacher. Marie continued to be interested in art, so at age 18, her mother sent her to a porcelain factory in Sèvre to learn porcelain painting.

Marie entered a major art academy when she was 20, in 1903. There she met another student, Georges Braque, who admired and encouraged her work and introduced her to Picasso and his circle of friends.

Private Life: In 1907, Picasso introduced Marie to the poet and aspiring art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire. The attraction was immediate and mutual. Both were illegitimate and brought up by domineering women. At age 24, Marie still lived with her mother, and the 27-year-old Apollinaire lived with his mother as well. They were lovers for the next 6 years; they didn't live together, but Apollinaire did leave his mother's house to live near Marie and her mother. Apollinaire is said to have been tyrannical and possessive—as well as a womanizer—but he appreciated Marie's style and strongly promoted her work.

Marie began to separate herself from Apollinaire around 1912. Her mother died in 1913.

In 1914, Marie married a German baron. It was bad time to marry a German because war between France and Germany was imminent. They moved to the coast of France, and later to Spain, where they would live for almost 5 years. She never felt comfortable away from Paris.

In 1919 Marie and Otto moved to Düsseldorf. Here Marie designed wallpaper and illustrated a friend's novel.

In 1921, when she was 38, Marie returned to Paris and divorced Otto, whose alcoholism had caused their marriage to deteriorate.
Photo by Cecil Beaton, 1929
Marie never remarried, but she had numerous male friends and several lovers. The nephew of a well-known Paris art dealer was her devoted companion for many years, and wished to marry her. There were rumors that Marie had female as well as male lovers.

In 1925 she took responsibility for the education the daughter of one of her maids, a girl named Suzanne Moreau. In 1954 she made the adoption official.

Marie died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

Career: Marie's association with the avant-garde group around Braque and Picasso was very beneficial to her early career. She was included in their exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants that autumn. Although she socialized with the Cubists, and she was fascinated by their experiments, she felt unable to pursue their advanced agenda.

The first phase of her work is characterized by large group portraits in strong colors and gently stylized forms.

Group of Artists, 1908
Picasso, Laurencin, Apollinaire, Fermande Olivier
Musée Marmottan Monet

In 1908, Marie painted a group portrait called Apollinaire and His Friends that showed Apollinaire and herself with Picasso and his muse of the moment, Fernande Olivier. This piece was purchased by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo. It was Marie's first sale. The following year, Marie did a larger version, including Gertrude Stein and others.

Apollinaire and His Friends, 1909
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2015

In 1913, she obtained contracts with two art dealers, and 7 of her works were exhibited in the Armory show in New York.

While Marie and Otto were living in Spain, she became involved in the avant-garde movement called Dadaism—and wrote poetry for a Dada review—but it had no effect on her own painting. She did not feel inspired to paint while she was in exile.

After her return to Paris in 1921, she worked in a graceful, decorative style that made her a popular portraitist among prominent social figures. She used a delicate palette and simplified forms. She also painted decorative groups of virginal women with pale, oval-shaped faces, fair hair, and black, almond-shaped eyes. She depicted a world of lyrical melancholy in pastel hues with a dominance of white. She exhibited her works in a Paris gallery and received large commissions. During this time she was one of the most well-known women in France. She exhibited in London, New York and Berlin as well as Paris.

Marie Laurencin by André Kertész, 1930
In 1923 she was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev to provide costume and set designs for a ballet. She went on to produce various stage designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. She also designed interior decoration and wallpaper, and illustrated more than 20 (80?) books.

During the Depression, she worked as an art instructor at a private school.

After this, Marie's reputation declined and it was said that her painting had much coarser use of form and color. She was considered "dated" and predictable.

She taught at an art academy in Paris from 1932 to 1935.

She stayed in Paris during World War II and suffered various privations, but she continued to paint and to exhibit her work, as well as to design sets.

She continued to paint until she was nearly 70.

The largest collection of her works—about 600—is in a private museum in Japan.

Women artists who worked for Diaghilev:
Marie Laurencin
Natalia Goncharova
Sonia Delaunay


Painting 1

Portrait of Baroness Grourgaud in Black Mantilla, 1924

The Kiss, 1927

The Rehearsal, 1936

Portrait of Marcelle Dormoy, 1937

Ile-de-France, 1940

Wikiart has a good selection of her work: Artworks by Date

There is a very large, but unlabeled, selection of her work at this poster site: Marie Laurencin