About half of my time spent alone with Caleb is having discussions about who has better taste in art and furniture. Half is definitely an exaggeration. Let’s say 75% of the time we’re talking about our relationship, 10% of the time about work, 10% of the time about ourselves, and 5% of the time we’re debating chairs.
Like the Herman Miller molded fiberglass Eames chair that we have in our living room, which abuts the “battleship,” more commonly referred to as the chaise lounge.
“That thing is like a Bakelite bracelet,” I say to him. “Everyone wants to collect them, but no one actually sits in one.”
“I sit in it,” he says, walking over to it, and planting himself down. “It’s very comfortable.”
“It’s like sitting in a McDonald’s chair,” I say. “And no you don’t, not unless I challenge you to it.”
“I bought it at a flea market in San Francisco from an old lady who didn’t even know what she was sitting on,” he protested.
“Her ass probably hurt like a motherfucker,” I say.
The other night, to test whether or not I was arguing with him just for argument’s sake, or if I really had my own opinions about things, he bought out of his art history books. We spent a while trying to one-up each other’s knowledge. Given that neither one of us have been in school for a while, we exchanged a lot of bad information.
“Malevich’s brushstrokes were all about emotion,” he said.
“No, they were about mechanical reproducability,” I protested.
So he flipped through the pages to find “White on White.” “HAH!” he said when he proved me wrong.
“Fuck you,” I told him.
“I really love surrealism,” he said, pointing to a Hannah Höch. “The collages.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Surrealism is very juvenile. It was all about Freud and World War I, and not fighting in it, and being a pussy, and the automaton.”
“You don’t think that they were making good art?” he asked.
“Some of it was fine,” I said. “I hate Dali though.”
“You don’t like Dali?” so we flipped through some pages until we found his section.
“Ugh,” he said.
“I told you.”
By accident, we arrived at the impressionists. “There was value here,” I said, sniffing my nose. “The flattening of the canvas and all that.”
“They were beautiful,” he conceded.
After Impressionism came Cubism. And somewhere buried in Cubism, we came upon Marie Laurencin.
“I love her!” I exclaimed when I saw a thumbnail of this image:
“Who is she?” Caleb asked.
“Marie Laurencin!” I shouted. Although I probably said like, “Maurice Lentis,” or “Marie Claire,” or “Mary de Laurentine,” before I read the caption under the image, and got her name right.
“I’ve never seen her work before,” he said.
“I saw her at the Musee Palais de Tokyo!” I said. “I mean the Museum D’Orsay. Actually I forgot where I saw her, it’s where they have Monet’s Water Lilies.”
(A quick Google search revealed that it is the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a great museum to go to in Paris, if you find yourself there.)
“I fell in love with her,” I continued. “I bought a bunch of postcards of her work.”
Marie Laurencin was born in 1883 in Paris, where she lived for most of her life. She studied porcelain painting at Sèvres (one can only imagine that was more appropriate for her gender at the time), before moving on to studying oil painting at Académie Humbert.
Back in Paris, at the beginning of the 20th century, she became close friends with Picasso and Braque, who were making hyper masculine (and ugly) Cubist shit. As a rebellion—whether consciously or not—she made her work all ethereal and feminine, washed in pastel colors, haunted by specters, vaguely reminiscent of John Singer Sargent.
It’s weird, and beautiful.
In her younger years, she was the lover of Guillaume Apollinaire, whom she served as a muse. In 1909, Henri Rousseau painted what I hope is an unflattering portrait of the two of them together.
Apollinaire even wrote a poem for her, “Marie.” It is not a major work.
Vous y dansiez petite fille
Y danserez-vous mère-grand
C’est la maclotte qui sautille
Toutes les cloches sonneront
Quand donc reviendrez-vous Marie
Les masques sont silencieux
Et la musique est si lointaine
Qu’elle semble venir des cieux
Oui je veux vous aimer mais vous aimer à peine
Et mon mal est délicieux
Les brebis s’en vont dans la neige
Flocons de laine et ceux d’argent
Des soldats passent et que n’ai-je
Un coeur à moi ce coeur changeant
Changeant et puis encor que sais-je
Sais-je où s’en iront tes cheveux
Crépus comme mer qui moutonne
Sais-je où s’en iront tes cheveux
Et tes mains feuilles de l’automne
Que jonchent aussi nos aveux
Je passais au bord de la Seine
Un livre ancien sous le bras
Le fleuve est pareil à ma peine
Il s’écoule et ne tarit pas
Quand donc finira la semaine.
I can’t read what that says, but I’m pretty sure the first sentence translates as “You and your little dancing girl,” which sounds pretty dirty to me. I’m adding it to my repertoire. You can listen to Apollinaire himself reciting it here.
Things didn’t work out with Apollinaire, so Marie married a German, the 127th best thing. They ended up getting divorced after WWI.
Marie lived until she was 72, and she died in Paris.
To you, Marie. For being one of only a few female artists working during the time in Paris. For being a member of the first—and most authentic—avant garde of the 20th century.
For your paintings, which I adore, all of them.
For your weird, idiosyncratic style, which has inspired many, but been copied by nobody.
For hanging out with lots of lesbians—seriously, she was a regular at the salon of Natalie Clifford Barney—and Coco Chanel, in Paris. Could be that you partook in some of their activities, I dare say, looking at the painting above.
For your museum in Nagano Prefecture in Japan, where apparently, hang 500 of your works.
For your aesthetic, for your smile, for you dancing little girl, Marie Laurencin, you’re my Icon of the Week.