I once met an art historian who made it his retirement project to seek out and photograph all known Johannes Vermeer paintings. After seeing five of Marie Laurencin’s paintings in a corner of the Orangerie Museum in Paris last year, I half-thought about doing the same (so lovely and so haunting were those works). A bit of digging revealed that the bulk of Marie’s paintings, watercolours and ballet costume sketches had been bought and whisked away to Japan where her biggest fan, industrialist Masahiro Takano, established a museum in 1983 to house her art. Thankfully, after a half century of relative anonymity (she was a much sought-after portraitist in the 1920s but then forgotten) 90 of Marie Laurencin’s works have been reassembled at the Marmottan Gallery in Paris.
Marie Laurencin’s trademark pink, blue, grey and turquoise palate, her interior, mostly female and small animal groupings, and her outdoor, girls-astride-horses impressionist-inspired scenes are simultaneously innocent and voluptuous. They have been described as “Sapphic”, “fresh”, “ambiguous” and “evanescent”.
It has been suggested by the curatorial staff at the Orangerie that over time, “la magie s’évente”, that the magic of the early and middle works turns stale despite modifications and nuanced changes in her style. Essentially, her late work “trades in its mystery for smoothness”.
Perhaps. Marie’s declining eyesight may have been a factor. And, late in her career she did introduce the occasional (misplaced) dark line into her paintings to delineate boundaries and stem the fuzziness. Nevermind. She was one of only three or four women painters in Paris during the Picasso-Braque revolution who helped invent modern art. Those lovely figures, most of whom have piercing black eyes and pale oval faces will forever hail the viewer, and ask us all to look and look some more.