Thursday, December 18, 2014

Marie Laurencin, The Prisoner

Marie Laurencin, The Prisoner, 1917

Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) was a successful French painter, known as one of the few major female Cubists, although her art does not entirely fit that classification.  Laurencin was born in Paris and originally studied to be a porcelain painter, but she changed her focus to oil painting when she began studying at the Académie Humbert.  She became a prominent figure in the avant-garde scene in the early twentieth century, associating with such figures as Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, and Jean Metzinger.  Laurencin also became lovers with poet Guillame Apollinaire and is often considered his muse.  Laurencin exhibited with these figures at several prominent galleries and independent salons in the early years of the century.  During World War I she lived in Spain with her husband, Baron Otto von Waëtjen and did not return to France until they divorced in 1920.  After returning to Paris, Laurencin finally achieved success in her own right and her paintings became quite highly valued (such as this portrait of Coco Chanel).  Although the Great Depression impinged upon her financial success, she remained critically successful and supplemented her income teaching art.  Although her relationship with Apollinaire continued to influence her, Laurencin remained single and independent for the rest of her life.  Some believe she took up with a series of women assistants in her employ.  Laurencin's young life was quite marked by her relationship with men, for both Apollinaire and von Waëtjen stifled her career and tried to confine her to the role of muse and wife respectively.  The title and premise of The Prisoner makes this situation clear.  This fine piece of work beautifully expresses Laurencin's feelings of oppression; although the subject is only confined by curtains, she remains a prisoner in her own life.  Whether in the confines of domesticity or the male dominated Paris art scene, Laurencin continually felt  trapped, until she broke out of these role in the twenties.  It is also worth mentioning that in marrying a German man, she revoked French citizenship and at this period was unable to return to Paris before the divorce, so she was also a prisoner in her marriage unable to return home.  This painting is quite beautiful in person, with the deep raspberry pink of the curtains complemented by the blue of the bow and garment.  A self-portrait from 1924 bears a resemblance to this subject, adding to the personal nature of this work.  Although the piece is dominated by a sense of loneliness and isolation, with one eye obscured by the curtain and one eye looking past it, there is the hope of breaking free of her prison.

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