Monday, January 24, 2011

MLoH #8 - Séraphine

I saw the completely mesmerizing film Séraphine last night. It tells the story of the French vernacular artist Séraphine de Senlis, who painted gorgeous, hypnotic, visionary works, often two meters high, with intensely rich pigments made from animal blood, clay, flowers and oil salvaged from wherever she could find them. The first scenes in the film show her trudging determinedly around the woods and her small town of Senlis, gathering materials, in perfect awareness of the beauty of the natural world but unaware of the fine points of social interaction. 

She survived just barely on meager earnings working as a laundress and housecleaner and was a devout Catholic, believing that a guardian angel urged her to create. She sang hymns as she painted, as if offering up her work to the Virgin Mary. One of the most affecting scenes was her proud acceptance of a bowl of soup from a kind neighbor, saying "I will eat it tomorrow; I already ate today." Earlier we saw that this meal she had eaten was in fact a leftover piece of veal given to her by a shopkeeper.

Her work was "discovered" by famous German art critic Wilhelm Uhde, the patron of Henri Rousseau and one of the first collectors of Picasso and Braque. He sponsored her art until the 1929 stock market crash made it impossible for him to continue supplying the massive amounts of money she eventually started spending. Séraphine was ill-equipped to handle the suddenness of her fame and fortune coming and then going again. The last ten years of her life were spent in a psychiatric ward, without the comfort of her art.

In the film, Séraphine quotes St. Theresa (the ecstatic one) and says, "Be ardent in your work and you will find God in your cooking pots." Surprisingly perfect advice for a maker, I think. I hope I can find inspiration in the middle of all my sawing and sanding.   

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