Marie Laurencin was a French painter associated with the Cubists, although she pursued a more feminine aesthetic, employing a palette of cool, soft pastels to create a fantastic atmosphere populated by young women and mythical animals rendered in curvilinear form. The following works, all found in the Musée de l’Orangerie are representative of that period.
Born in Paris in 1883, Laurencin spent most of her life there, except for a period of exile in Spain during World War I, then in Germany. She had married a German baron in 1914 and was unable to enter France until after the War. They divorced in 1920, and she returned to Paris, where she would spend the rest of her life.
Many of Laurencin’s paintings, such as this painting of Spanish dancers, show the influence of her time spent in Spain.
“Les Biches” was the model for a backdrop curtain commissioned by Serge Diaghilev, director of les Ballets Russes, for the operetta “Les Biches.” Coincidentally, it was the dance that brought Laurencin and Coco Chanel together. Both were collaborating with Diaghelev, Chanel designing the costumes for “Le Train Bleu” and Laurencin doing the sets for “Les Biches.”
Chanel commissioned Laurencin to paint her portrait, but then rejected it on the grounds that it didn’t resemble her. (One might wonder what she expected when choosing a Cubist painter for a portrait.) Laurencin was furious and refused to paint another, keeping this one for herself. In any event, I find it charming.
Domenica Walter was a strong-willed beauty, married to Paul Guillaume, an art dealer who represented Laurencin. Upon the death of Guillaume, Domenica married Jean Walter, a wealthy industrialist. In the wake of a scandal surrounding his death, Domenica ceded the bulk of her art collection to the French State. But that’s a story for another day.
This painting of two young women reflects the feminine world that Laurencin painted during the 1920’s, a style to which she would return later in her career. Certain elements, such as the flowing draperies and scarf, or the quasi-mythical animal, are reminiscent of “Les Biches.”
These paintings (and many others) in the Musée de l’Orangerie are from the Collection Jean Walter-Paul Guillaume.
Although Laurencin spent most of her life in Paris, it is in Nagano Prefecture, Tokyo, Japan, that one will find the largest collection of her work. In 1983, to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth, the Marie Laurencin Museum opened there, containing an archive and more than 500 of her works. However, a somewhat ambiguous notice on the Museum’s website indicates that the Museum will close in January 2019 and may reopen. Stay tuned.