Monday, October 7, 2013

Marie Laurençin: Pot Party Painter

UPDATE 10/15: Laurençin is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.
Les Invités (The Guests) 1908
"Everybody called Gertrude Stein Gertrude, everybody called Picasso Pablo and Fernande Fernande and everybody called Guillame Apollinaire Guillame and Max Jacob Max, but everybody called Marie Laurençin Marie Laurençin," wrote Gertrude Stein.

Stein purchased Laurençin's Les Invités, the painter's first sale. The painting is a record of an infamous 1908 dinner party where hashish pills were taken at Azon's restaurant in Paris. Laurençin's self portrait is upper left, with knowing eyes, flanked by Picasso and Apollinaire. Fernande Oliver, Picasso's mistress, is bottom right.

The following year, Laurençin painted Un Réunion a la Campagne (A Reunion in the Country), where she is depicted reclining as a hostess would, along with the three from Les Invités and others. Thus Laurençin is possibly the first person to paint a pot party (or two). In the first portrait she is the most fully realized image, and is bringing a flower: was she the instigator for the hashish taking? She may have been a lover of Princess Violette Murat, who could have supplied her.

Marie Laurencin, Diana a la Chasse (Diana of the Hunt) 1908
An illegitimate child, Marie Laurençin was born in Paris in 1883 to a Creole mother who worked as a seamstress. She began her career as a porcelain painter at the Sèvres factory, studied with the flower painter Madeleine Lemaire, and attended the Académie Humbert where she met George Braque. Through Braque, she soon became part of the avant garde artist set in Paris. Source.

The paintings reproduced in Elizabeth Louise Kahn's excellent 2003 biography of Laurençin demonstrate amply her unique and prodigious talent.  In 1907 Laurençin exhibited her paintings at the Salon des Indépendants and was introduced to Apollinaire. The two artists began an affair that lasted until 1913, and she has also been linked with Picasso and with other women. Rodin said called her "a woman who is neither futurist nor cubist. She knows what gracefulness is; it is serpentine." Picasso purchased her painting La Songeuse (1911) and had it all his life.

Max Ernst painted her portrait, as did Cocteau. She kept company with Mary Cassatt and Susanne Valadon. In 1912, Laurençin and two other women (Charlotte Mare and Gaby Villon) fought off angry viewers of the controversial Cubist House with their umbrellas.

Les Chansons de Bilitis 1904 (print)
In Stella Gibbons's wonderful 1932 book Cold Comfort Farm, the heroine advises a protegée not to share her poetry with society people. "Nor must you talk about Marie Laurençin to people who hunt. They will merely think she is your new mare."

Laurençin was named chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1937 and in 1983, the Marie Laurençin Museum in Nagano-Ken, Japan was inaugurated to celebrate the centenary of her birth. A Japanese influence can be seen in this print (left). Marie Laurençin's 130th birthday is October 31st of this year.

Perhaps Laurençin was also familiar with Alice B. Toklas-style brownies: she was a regular at Gertrude Stein's salon on rue de Fleurus, and remained in contact with Toklas for the rest of her life. "I see Marie Laurençin quite often," Toklas wrote in a 1949 letter. "She wants me to translate for her some of the poems of Emily Dickinson so that she may do some illustrations—most certainly her dish of tea." Sadly, Toklas never did the translations.

In a letter Toklas wrote in 1950 discussing the Cone collection, which had just opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art, she suggests her correspondent look for "a very early Marie Laurençin" and describes Les Invités. Apparently the painting had been sold to the Cone sisters; Claribel Cone met Stein when the two attended Johns Hopkins medical school and the Steins introduced the Cones to the Parisian art scene. 

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