Marie Laurencin Exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris
Marie Laurencin, Danseuses (Dancers), circa 1939, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris © Adagp, Paris 2013
At the beginning of the 20th century, when the art world was still very male-dominated, self professed female painter Marie Laurencin was the first of her time to achieve success before 1914. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Japanese patrons, the spotlight was shone on her work once again in the 1990’s with the opening of a museum near Tokyo devoted to her work. It is this museum that has supplied the majority of the ninety-two works brought together for the exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet, which is in fact the first French museum to pay homage to Marie Laurencin.
Born in 1883 in Paris, near Montmartre, and raised by her seamstress mother, Marie Laurencin studied at the École de Sèvres driven with the ambition to become a porcelain painter. At the same time, in 1902, she enrolled in painting sessions at the Académie Humbert which were open to women for free. Her fellow students included Georges Braque and Francis Picabia who became the first admirers of her work and encouraged her to become a painter. Already standing out as a talented self-portraitist (Autoportrait, or Self-portrait, 1905), she would continue to use the image of herself right throughout her career as the key to her pictorial world.
The time of Le Bateau-Lavoir
In 1906, Georges Braque introduced Marie Laurencin to collector Henri-Pierre Roché, who had just closed the first major sale of a work by Picasso. Encouraged by Henri-Pierre Roché, Marie Laurencin frequented the workshops of the artists of Le Bateau-Lavoir, situated right in the heart of Montmartre (13 Rue Ravignan). Immediately, Henri Rousseau, Robert Delaunay and André Derain, poets Max Jacob and André Salmon, and also Jacques Doucet and Gertrude Stein became fans of her work. Picasso introduced her to Guillaume Apollinaire, of whom she became the muse and companion from 1907 to 1912.
Before the First World War
Supported by Apollinaire – "as an artist, we can place Miss Laurencin somewhere between Picasso and Henri Rousseau" –, she quickly established herself at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne, for which she contributed to the decor of the Maison Cubiste in 1912. She also exhibited seven of her paintings at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. During this period, Marie Laurencin accepted Fauvism and Cubism in her own way: she reduced shapes to the bare essentials, void of style, and opted for a contrasting range of colours. The female painter demonstrated both an innate understanding of the classic portrait and a modern approach supported by a palette of shades of grey, blue and ochre, surrounded by the black of the contour line (Apollinaire et ses amis, or Apollinaire and his Friends, 1909). Matisse summed up what was really unique about this artist at the time: “Here is one woman, at least, who is not simply interested in Fauvism alone”.
“Les Années Folles”
Her marriage, in June 1914, to the Montparnasse German, Francophile painter, Otto Van Wätjen, led Marie Laurencin to leave Paris, although she finally returned in 1922, divorced, after a long period of exile in Spain. To that of painters, she now preferred the company of writers, which included Paul Valéry, Paul Léautaud, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Paul Morand and Saint-John Perse, to name but a few. In 1923, she created the scenery and costumes for the ballet by Francis Poulenc, Les biches, the librettist of which was her friend Jean Cocteau. "Les Années Folles" (the Golden Twenties) saw Marie Laurencin’s art crowned with success. In the most elegant Art Deco interiors, she became the personal portraitist of personalities such as Baron Gourgaud, Countess Étienne de Beaumont, Coco Chanel and Lady Cunard. These friendships inspired many of her variations, like a number of her self-portraits based on the themes of eternal femininity and a world of daydreams of an elegiac youth (La vie au château, or Life at the Castle, 1925, Le baiser, or The Kiss, circa 1927, Danseuses, or Dancers, circa 1939, and Trois jeunes femmes, or Three Young Girls, circa 1953).
Marie Laurencin at the Musée Marmottan Monet
Marie Laurencin went on to create a significant body of work: almost two thousand oil paintings, many drawings and watercolours, three thousand engravings, and numerous theatre sets. The exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet is presenting ninety-two of these works (seventy-two paintings and twenty watercolours) from her best period: 1905-1935. This long‑awaited exhibition, more than fifty years after her death (1956) and marking one hundred and thirty years since her birth (1883), is a worthy tribute to one of the most refined French painters of the first half of the 20th century.