Marie Laurencin was an important figure in the Paris avant-garde, producing portraits, paintings, drawings, and prints. She painted and illustrated with pastel colors and curvilinear, arabesque lines. Her subjects were nearly always women, either singly or in groups, posed in dreamlike settings.
When she was 18 years old, she studied porcelain painting in Sevres. She returned to Paris and studied at the Academie Humbert. There she met Georges Braque. In 1907, she exhibited for the first time at the Salon des Independents, the year she met Picasso and the other artists who visited his studio in the Bateau Lavoir in Montparnasse. She had a stormy love relationship with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire that would last until 1912, and she was thought to be his muse.
In 1912, she had her first personal show with Robert Delaunay in Paris and took part in the decorations of the Maison Cubiste at the Salon d’Automne. In 1914, she married Otto von Watjen and lost her French citizenship. After their divorce in 1921, she returned to Paris and achieved financial success until the economic depression of the 1930s.
In her paintings, which focused on portraits of females, she used muted, jewel-like colors and curved forms in a feminine aesthetic that served as a response to the masculinity of Cubism. She consolidated the airy and delicate image of women, that evoked a fairy-tale atmosphere of innocence, through delicate tonalities and undulating rhythms. One of her most favorite subjects was ballet dancers. Between 1918-1924, her female figures began to display sensuality and overt depictions of sexual encounters as they caress, kiss, and lie with each other.
A portrait painter, she painted musicians, actors, dancers, and society figures such as Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau. Her work became successful and popular with collectors. Her portraits were executed in the powdery palate of pastels but also had the flat planes of color and shallow space associated with Cubism.
In the mid-1920s, she purchased – with money earned from the sale of her paintings – a chateau where she lived with her lover, Suzanne Moreau, whom she legally adopted as a daughter. The two women cohabited for the rest of their lives.
She also designed ballet costumes and stage sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and for the Comedie Francaise. After World War II, she designed for the Compagnie des Champs-Élysées and illustrated books, such as Lewis Caroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
In 1983, the Musee Marie Laurencin was opened in Japan, the first museum in the world devoted to a single female painter. It holds more than 500 of her works and her archive. In February, 2020 Nahmad Projects opened the first U.K. exhibition of her work since 1947. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern and the Musee de l’Orangerie.