MARIE LAURENCINFrench 1883 - 1956

MARIE LAURENCINFrench 1883 - 1956

Marie Laurencin has a fine bohemian pedigree: illegitimately born and raised fatherless in Paris, she studied at the progressive Académie Humbert, where she shunned her (respectably feminine) early training in porcelain painting at the Sèvres factory to work in oil paint. She befriended George Braque whilst studying at the Académie, and through him entered the circle of Picasso. She became established within the Parisian avant-garde, working alongside the Cubists associated with the Section d’Or, such as Jean Metzinger, Robert Delaunay and Francis Picabia. In 1907 she exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, where she met the playwright and novelist Guillaume Apollinaire. The two began a tumultuous but mutually inspirational affair; Laurencin has often been identified as Apollinaire’s muse, and he undoubtedly influenced her dreamy imagery and the symbolism of her work. Her paintings from the years around 1910 are strongly cubist; however her signature style drew more heavily upon Persian miniatures and the Rococo. Laurencin’s paintings tend to feature waiflike, feminine characters with pale skin and dark eyes, rendered in dreamy pastel hues.

In 1914 Laurençin married a German nobleman, Baron Otto von Wätjen. Anti-German sentiment after the advent of WWI took away many of her new-found dealers, and she was forced to take refuge in Spain until she divorced von Wätjen in 1921. Her palette became darker in this troubled period. When she returned to Pairs, she was drawn into Gertrude Stein’s salon on rue de Fleurus. There was an exhibition of her work at Rosenberg’s Gallery in Paris of the same year, which helped re-establish her reputation after her period of exile. She gained renown as a portraitist, and was even commissioned to capture the likeness of Coco Chanel.

Laurencin also worked as a costume and set designer, notably for the Ballet Russe. In 1924 she worked on Diaghilev’s Les Biches, the stage paintings for which are still preserved at the Musée de l'Orangerie. Her theatre career was abruptly halted by WWII, but Laurençin remained in Paris even after her apartment was requisitioned by the Germans. She resumed her practice after the war, designing sets and costumes for Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1945) for Roland Petit's Ballet des Champs-Elysées and La Belle au bois dormant (1947) for the Ballets de Monte Carlo. In her later career, she also illustrated Sappho's poetry in a translation by Edith de Beaument that was suppressed by the Nazis.

Laurencin’s uniquely feminine vision has been remarkably under-celebrated given how important an avant-garde figure she was during her lifetime, but her paintings have a strong following in Japan; in 1983, the Marie Laurençin Museum was inaugurated in Nagano-Ken, celebrating the centenary of her birth.