1 Works on Paper in Collection
Works in Select Public Collections
Musée Marie Laurencin, Nagano-Ken, Japan; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA; Museum of Modern Art, NY, New York; Musee Picasso, Paris, France; Tate, London, England; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Musee de l’ Orangerie, Paris, France; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Selected Recent Exhibitions
Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris, Curated by Simonetta Fraquelli and Cindy Kang, The Barnes Foundation, PA, October 2023-January 2024
Marie Laurencin: Artist and Muse, Birmingham Museum of Art, AL. Traveled to The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, 1989
The Cubist Imprint, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1989
Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris by Simonetta Fraquelli and Cindy Kang, The Barnes Foundation, 2023
Marie Laurencin: Artist and Muse by Douglas K.S. Hyland and Heather McPherson, Birmingham Museum of Art and University of Washington Press, 1989
Born 1883 Paris, France
Died 1956 Paris, France
Marie Laurencin was widely recognized as a painter, illustrator and muse during Modernism’s heyday in Paris. Laurencin was initially associated with Fauvism and Cubism but by the early 1920s she had established a lyrical style that defied categorization, creating works populated by dreamy women and animals in pastel hues. With an original style that took permission from Modernism’s reductivist approach, Laurencin moved seamlessly between the male-dominated cubist avant-garde, lesbian literary and artistic circles, and the realms of fashion, ballet, and decorative arts.
Marie Laurencin was born out of wedlock to a seamstress mother whose posture towards her daughter was distant. Laurencin was a mediocre student but read voraciously and was interested all her life in the literary arts. As a child she collected portraits of queens and liked to draw. In 1902, at age 19, she learned how to paint on porcelain at the École de Sèvres. As a result of this training, she began to paint self-portraits, nurturing what was to become a lifelong interest in portraiture.
Laurencin took drawing classes in Paris and frequented the Académie Humbert where she worked alongside Georges Braque. At this point in her young life, Laurencin was recognized as a fine draughtsman and is welcomed into a circle of artists that were the avant-garde of Modernism. Simultaneously she was attending Natalie Barney’s neo-Sapphic gatherings where lesbian and bisexual women socialized and discussed creativity and feminine desire. Laurencin’s first prints in 1904 were a of The Songs of Bilitis, a text that celebrates love between women.
In 1907 Laurencin has her first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants and, at the exhibition’s opening, she is introduced by Pablo Picasso to poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The two began a love affair that lasted until 1913 and inspired a great deal of Apollinaire’s poetry. Laurencin and Apollinaire fed one another artistically and were at the forefront of what was a profound shift of direction for western art. In addition to Picasso and Braque, Laurencin was close friends with Douanier Rousseau who was influenced by her fascination with animals. In 1909 Rousseau did a double portrait of Laurencin and Apollinaire entitled The Muse Inspiring the Poet.
Despite her close association with the Parisian avant-garde, Laurencin took her art in her own unique direction. Exhibiting alongside Cubists Picasso and Braque, she appreciated what she referred to as “their experiments” but she did not join them in making fractured images, instead she pursued dreamlike images of women in idyllic landscapes. Using arabesque lines and a muted palette, Laurencin presented lyrical portraits of real and imaginary women in vague, open backgrounds. Hers were not robust fleshed out forms, but flat reductive images indicating an absorption of some of Modernism’s tenets.
In 1908 Gertrude Stein purchased a piece of Laurencin’s that depicted a group of artists. It was made up of flat planes of color with no discernable background. That picture was later purchased from Stein by Claribel Cone and today is part of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Cone Collection. Her work hanging alongside Picasso’s and Matisse’s in Stein’s home was instrumental in Laurencin’s career. It was through Stein that many important collectors and dealers first saw her work.
Laurencin exhibited frequently in France including at the Salon des Indépendants, Salon d’Automne and Salon de la Section d’Or. In 1912 she and Robert Delaunay exhibited together at
Galerie Barbazanges in Paris. Her art was formally introduced to the U.S. audience through the 1913 Armory exhibition where she was well represented by seven pieces. Between 1908 and 1930 Laurencin enjoyed growing American patronage. In addition to Gertrude Stein and the Cone sisters, Helena Rubenstein and Conde Nast purchased work, American painter Walt Kuhn organized exhibitions for her and Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield collected and wrote about her.
While she was making her art she was also actively doing illustrations for many books, for which she still held a fascination. in 1942 she published Le Carnet des Nuits, a collection of poetry with some memoir work.
After the death of her mother, Laurencin married Otto von Watjen in 1914. WWI forced them to exile in Spain and Laurencin, missing her city and friends, painted little during this time but she did befriend Sonia and Robert Delaunay and helped Francis Picabia edit 391, a Dadaist publication. Laurencin discovered that Watjen had a drinking problem and the couple divorced in 1919. When the war ended Laurencin returned to Paris and renewed her interest in painting. That same year she had an exhibition at Rosenberg Gallery which reestablished her in Paris.
Her subjects and style were in alignment with the art deco movement that evolved in the 1920s and her artwork was popular. During this time Laurencin did a number of portraits of famous Parisians, the majority of which were women, including Coco Chanel and Lady Cunard. She also painted the occasional landscape and frequently did set and costume designs for the ballet including Sergei Diaghilev's Les Biches, which was performed in Paris, Monte Carlo, Berlin and London in 1924.
Laurencin’s piece in the Wolfson Collection is quintessential Laurencin. The work is a charming drawing of a doe-eyed, elegant woman delineated with arabesque lines. In keeping with her approach, the woman’s body is elongated and there is no specific background. A crosshatch of lines provide some additional texture to a fairly flat and frontal composition. The stylish hat, shoulder bow and feather plume are all attributes that Laurencin often employed. Left untitled we have no idea if this is a sketch for a portrait or comes from Laurencin’s imagination but we can see her confident understanding of illustration and line.
Laurencin’s peers and critics characterized her work as uniquely and distinctively feminine in its approach. Her subjects were indeed mostly women and favored escapist, idyllic scenes but she worked from a place of intuition and independence that was respected and admired. “Delightful” and “delicate” are adjectives commonly employed by admirers and critics who found Laurencin’s work particularly French and feminine in its approach and appeal.
During her lifetime Laurencin’s work was touted by important artists, dealers and collectors like Marius De Zayas and John Quinn. Endorsements from tastemakers like Vanity Fair’s Crowinshield and Scofiield Thayer of The Dial increased the demand for her work. Critics like Clarence Bulliet of the Chicago Evening Post declared her approach refreshing and original. By the 1930s Laurencin’s reputation was at its height. In 1931, she was a founding member of La Société des femmes artistes modernes. From 1932 to 1935, she taught at the Villa Malakoff. In 1937 a retrospective of her work was held in conjunction with the Great Exhibition of Independent Art Masters at the Petit Palais.
During WWII the German army requisitioned Laurencin’s Paris apartment and, once again, war brought isolation. As art deco became less fashionable, Laurencin’s reputation suffered and she began to retreat from public life. Despite increasingly poor health, she continued to paint. Up until her death, Laurencin’s primary companion was her maid, Suzanne Moreau, who had lived with her since 1925. While Laurencin had a number of romantic liaisons with women during her lifetime, it is unclear if Laurencin and Moreau were lovers. In 1954 Laurencin made Moreau the beneficiary of her estate by legally adopting her.
Laurencin’s work was largely forgotten until the 1970s and early 1980s when feminist and queer art historians reintroduced her art through lectures, books and exhibitions. Catalogues raisonnés of her prints and paintings were published and exhibitions in the U.S. and France brought her work forward once again. In 1983 Masahiro Takano, an executive at Hitachi, who had been collecting her work for over a decade, opened the Musée Marie Laurencin in Nagano, Japan.
Today Marie Laurencin’s influence can be found in the work of a number of artists who have employed the language of femininity to investigate the perception of women in society. Among them Hannah Wilke and Louise Bourgeois who often use clothing and the female form to explore female relationships, human sexuality and emotional states.