In these troubled times, I think it’s good to have something to focus on other than the news. For me, art is one such diversion, persuing the works of Annie and her circle being a special interest, but also the works of others.
I find the careers of female artists interesting because of the way they’ve often had to push that extra bit harder to get their creativity recognised. I found Griselda Pollock‘s comments on Radio 4 recently that female artists were written out of art history in the twentieth century thought provoking. One tends to blame the Victorians, but it’s actually a more recent phenomenon.
In pre-twentieth century times there was at least the excuse of women’s lack of access to property and their domestic responsibilities, meaning few had the time or opportinity to persue artistic careers, but even then a good number were included in Royal Academy exhibitions. Browsing through exhibition catalogues for early twentieth exhibitions in representational and the new waves of non-representational (abstract) art, women are largely absent, sometimes completely so.
Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) was one of the few exceptions. Born in Paris, she started her professional life as a porcelain painter, but changed to oils and found herself amidst the revolutionary, Montmatre-based art world of the time, associating with the likes of Picasso and the author Guillaum Apollinaire. Works of hers were included in the groundbreaking Salon des Indépendants exhibition of 1911, which introduced cubism to the world.
Marrying a German shortly before the outbreak of the World War I, Marie found herself striped of her French citizenship and the couple had to live in exile in Spain. She later separated from her husband and returned to Paris, developing her signature style of pastel-shaded, diaphanous female figures, and forged a career as an illustrator, printmaker and tutor, as well as a painter.
I’ve searched in vain for a connection between Annie and Marie, finding none. They moved in very different circles, Marie in the Parisian avant-garde, and Annie in more traditional company in London and Rome. There is arguably a spiritual connection – both determinedly persued their own paths, Annie with her classically-based realism and symbolism, Marie with her deceptively simple, doe-eyed female forms. I’ve had the pleasure of having one of Marie’s prints hanging on my wall at one time, her 1923 portrait of Danish artist Gerda Wegener (shown below), and it made a strong impression, hinting at the troubled and melancholy disposition of the subject.