LAURENCIN Marie
French painter, illustrator, and stage designer; born in 1885 in Paris, died in 1956. She attended the Lycée Lamartine until she was twenty. Of average ability, she received some rather discouraging advice from her drawing teacher. 'You would be better off learning to play the mandolin'. Nevertheless, she began to attend drawing classes at a municipal night school. Then she met Clovis Sagot, a small art dealer, who spoke to Picasso and Apollinaire about her; soon after, Gertrude Stein bought one of her canvases. She used to go to the Bateau-Lavoir, where painters and poets congregated. Though she took part in the feverish discussions which gave rise to Cubism, she was hardly influenced by this movement: in the group portraits she painted of Apollinaire and his friends there is that great simplicity and stylization of bodies and faces from which she never departed. Apollinaire wrote of Marie Laurencin's art of this period that 'it dances like Salome between that of Picasso, the new John the Baptist, who cleanses the arts in a baptism of light, and that of Rousseau, the Herod of the sentiment, magnificent and puerile old man, that love led to the very edge of intellectualism'. Her art has never changed its character and throughout her career she has sought the same dream of gentleness in the pathetic faces of women, filmy veils, feathers and flowers and delicate colours. Perhaps the only exception is Poe The Raven, which she illustrated for Apollinaire with red and black lines and dots and which has remained unpublished. In the thirty works she later decorated with lithographs or water-colours, she returned to figurative representation. Among these were La Tentative Amoureuse by André Gide and Alice in Wonderland. She designed the décor of Les Biches by Poulenc for the Russian Ballet in 1924, and the décors of À quoi rêvent les jeunes filles by Musset for the Comédie Française in 1928. She reads widely, and her best friends are the books which line the walls of her apartment; sometimes, too, their authors, for Marie Laurencin has always preferred the company of writers to that of painters. She has described herself in these terms: 'Loves luxury. Very proud of having been born in Paris. Likes neither long speeches nor reproaches nor advice, nor even compliments. Eats quickly, walks quickly, lives quickly. Paints very slowly.'
Her work, however, was entirely peripheral to the Cubist movement. She specialized in portraits of oval-faced, almond-eyed young girls painted in pastel colours, and although she borrowed a few tricks of stylization from her Cubist friends, her style remained essentially unaffected by them. Her work was lyrically charming and rather repetitive.
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