French Painter, Poet, and Illustrator
Summary of Marie Laurencin
Marie Laurencin played a significant role in negotiating female and lesbian identity in early-20th century modern art movements dominated by men. From early in life, Laurencin was predominantly interested in worlds in which women moved independently and peacefully, creating self-portraits and scenes featuring animals and women which were striking in their thematic consistency. Laurencin's name was made through her association with Cubism, exhibiting with the Section d'Or and in the Armory Show, but as a mature artist resisted dominant artistic movements. Laurencin developed her own aesthetic, favouring escapist imagery in pastel hues, that was at once decorative and radical in its embrace of feminine tropes. The artist, throughout her life, embraced the ambiguous and the ephemeral, creating a body of work that offers a confident and self-sufficient vision of female affection and creativity.
- Laurencin's images of female identity, often alluding to her own position as an artist or to spontaneous creative rituals such as dance or dress, created links between lesbian identity and creative fertility. Laurencin's paintings, drawings and prints consistently presented the possibility of escape into a world without men, constructed through visual tropes - such as pastel colors, scarves and animals - associated with the feminine.
- Marie Laurencin created a style distinctively her own whilst expanding upon earlier periods and movements in both art and literature. She borrowed symbolic imagery, such as fans and deer, from Rococo painting, experimented with unusual color schemes as did the Impressionists and drew upon modern ideas of abstraction in stripping her images of extraneous detail. Her dreamlike sensibility, meanwhile, borrowed from Symbolist poetry.
- Laurencin's paintings were unashamedly pleasurable, celebrating art as something that could serve a decorative purpose. She frequently collaborated on sets and costumes for ballet, along with interiors, and created images that prioritised the instinctive over the intellectual, serving as arguments for the value of beauty as the art world moved toward theory-dominated practice.
Biography of Marie Laurencin
In post-war Paris, Marie Laurencin proved herself as both an eccentric artist and businesswoman. She charged higher prices for work which she found dull than for that which she enjoyed; she charged men double what she asked of women and charged brunettes more than blondes. But it did her legacy no harm and in 1983 the Musée Marie Laurencin opened in Japan - it was the first museum in the world devoted to a single female painter.
Important Art by Marie Laurencin
This self-portrait dates from Marie Laurencin's time at the Académie Humbert and illustrates both her growing understanding of nineteenth-century academic painting along with her intuitive use of color. Laurencin depicts herself in a white smock, looking directly at the viewer with a neutral expression, her hair tucked behind her face. The palette is dominated by browns, whites and pinks and Laurencin uses color to model her face, with pinks shaping the sides of the nose and the eyelids and browns and greys indicating shadows around her cheeks, which have an unnatural whiteness that hints at her future use of the color. Her lips, at the center of the canvas, are red and full.
Laurencin painted self-portraits throughout her career and her interest in using and returning to herself as a subject ties closely to her interest in female independence and self-fashioning. Laurencin presents herself as an independent artist and as a modern woman; she wears the smock of a painter and adopts a serious expression and confident pose, meeting the gaze of the viewer.
This self-portrait, like those Laurencin completed both previously and later in her career, can be viewed as contributions to a tradition of female portraiture that extended back to the eighteenth century, drawing from painters such as Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun and patrons such as Madame de Pompadour who controlled their own representation as a means of grasping independence and agency within masculine artistic circles.
This painting shows Guillaume Apollinaire surrounded by a group of friends, including Laurencin herself. Apollinaire sits at the centre of the painting, gazing forward, his hands folded on his knee, with a dog beneath him that turns its head back toward the poet. Gertrude Stein, Fernande Olivier and an unknown woman with a lavish headdress appear to the left of Apollinaire while Pablo Picasso, Marguerite Gillot and Maurice Cremnitz are grouped to the right, behind a vase of flowers. Laurencin appears seated on the ground in a pale blue dress, her body and leg turned toward Apollinaire while her head turns toward the viewer. Apollinaire and His Friends is predominantly painted with earthy, subdued browns and greys, with Laurencin's blue dress and Apollinaire's blue tie serving both to connect the pair within the image and draw attention to their figures.
Laurencin painted this group portrait as a gift and homage to Apollinaire, following Gertrude Stein's purchase of a smaller canvas with the same title, and it serves as a showcase of the couple's position within Parisian avant-garde circles and of the ways in which this group mythologized themselves. While the color scheme is suggestive of Picasso and Braque's influence, Laurencin's interest in softer shapes and classicism is evident; the faces of the figures are stylized, flat and rounded, without extensive modelling, while the arrangement of the group at the left follows that of the Three Graces, a popular theme in antiquity. Apollinaire installed this painting above his bed in his apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where it remained throughout his life and after his death was preserved by his family.
The Young Girls shows four women, independent but overlapping, all with pale skin, dark eyes and dark hair, robed in grey and posing against an abstracted pastoral backdrop. On the left is a violinist, playing music for the figure beside her, who dances. At the centre, a seated woman, facing the dancer, turns to look back over her shoulder toward the viewer. On the right, another woman appears in motion, carrying a bowl of fruit under her right arm and reaching down with her left to stroke the nose of a doe. The limbs of the women are fluid, following the drape of their dresses, and their bodies are outlined with heavy black lines.
The Young Girls is illustrative of Laurencin's skill in experimenting with different artistic styles whilst developing her own interests and visual language. The posing of the four women and their flat, mask-like faces are strongly suggestive of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), while the flat planes of the village behind call to mind Braque's Houses at L'Estaque (1908). This painting, however, differentiates itself from these influences through the use of the four women to suggest a fertile sphere of feminine creativity, suggested both through the circle created by the figures' positioning and through the presence of the doe, a symbol of femininity and naturalness that Laurencin frequently employed. The performance, in which the women are both participants and observers, is reminiscent of those Laurencin regularly attended at the home of Natalie Barney and The Young Girls can be read as a contribution to this tradition of lesbian self-fashioning and as a celebration of an independent female realm.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Marie Laurencin
- Marie Laurencin, artist and museOur PickBy Douglas Hyland
- Marie Laurencin: Une femme inadaptée in Feminist Histories of ArtBy Elizabeth Louise Kahn
- Marie Laurencin (French)By Bertrand Meyer-Stabley
- Le carnet des nuits (French)By Marie Laurencin
- Marie Laurencin (French)Our PickBy Daniel Marchesseau
- Marie Laurencin: Cubist Muse or More?Our PickBy Renee Sandell / Woman's Art Journal / Jan 23-27, 1980
- Abused, ridiculed, at best toleratedBy Iain Gale / The Independent / November 21, 1995
- Memories of Bilitis: Marie Laurencin beyond the Cubist ContextBy Elizabeth Otto / Genders 1998-2013, University of Colorado / August 1, 2002
- Marie Laurencin, artist who embraced world with elegancyBy Kwon Mee-yoo / The Korea Times / December 7, 2018