SÉRAPHINE (Séraphine Louis)
( 1864-1942). Séraphine Louis, sometimes called Séraphine de Senlis, French painter born at Assy in the Oise. She spent her childhood watching over animals, then worked in Senlis as a housekeeper. Almost nothing is known of her life or of how she began to paint. Later, when she was almost famous, she always guarded the secret of her prodigious enamelled technique. It was Wilhelm Uhde who discovered her in 1912. He had rented a small apartment in Senlis for a rest and had hired an old woman to do the housework for him. In a middle-class household nearby he discovered a still life of apples lying on a table, and was deeply impressed. Enquiring about the artist, he learned that it was the servant Séaphine. The first works of hers that he acquired at this time were confiscated and sold at the beginning of the war, and they have disappeared. It was not until many years later that having established himself in Chantilly, he again saw pictures by Séraphine at an exhibition of regional artists in the town hall of Senlis. Struck by the scope of these new works, he sought out the old woman, who lived shut up in a poor room where a small lamp burned day and night before an image of the Virgin. Séraphine, 'small and withered, with a fanatical look and lived face framed by discoloured locks', devoted herself entirely to painting. With the help of Uhde, who supplied her at last with the vast canvases her overflowing imagination required, she achieved a work of unique spiritual significance within a few years. She painted nothing but flowers, leaves and fruit, but hers bear little relation to their natural counterparts. Descriptive or decorative purposes were completely foreign to her art of mystical effusion, which can be compared only to the most lustrous Persian ceramics. The great stained-glass flames in the churches of Senlis, the only possible sources of inspiration of the pious Séraphine, perhaps gave her the idea for the ascending rhythms that activate her large canvases. The details of these works give access to a strange inner world: leaves, whose centre is a fruit or upon which eyes open and lips appear, fringed with lashes, recall peacock's plumage and the wings of the rarest birds. The precision and sureness of these imaginary forms should be emphasized, as well as the magic richness of the colours employed and the balance and harmony of the canvases, which are related to no natural order. Despite evidences of certain obsessions -Séraphine died in a lunatic asylum -- her works are never repetitions; they are perhaps the most direct attempt at expression of a soul.
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