One of the joys of the many galleries in London with their varied exhibitions, before and after coronavirus closures, is being able to see the work of two near-contemporaries and wonder why their work is so different and why they have such different artistic views of the world? No doubt art aficionados do that all the time. It is one of the things that makes modern and contemporary art so fascinating, compared to the all-embracing styles which developed as fashions across different artists in different countries and different generations in for example Gothic and Renaissance times.
French artist Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) on show at Nahmad Projects created paintings which were colourful, gay, superficial, delicate, full of joy and perhaps slightly graphic (some say Art Deco) in style giving away her early training as a painter of porcelain, while Belgian artist Leon Spillaert (1881-1946) on show at the Royal Academy and born only two years before Laurencin created images which were darker, deeper and more moody, perhaps reflecting his lifelong problem of insomnia, which meant he was active during the darkness of the night.
Leon Spilliaert appears to have been a troubled soul, suffering with illness throughout his life. He appears to have been happiest in Ostend during the winter months when the town was relatively deserted, before the arrival of the summer season. He would probably feel at home wandering through empty towns and cities now, deserted due to stay-home policies for coronavirus. He. like Laurencin, spent some time in Paris, though he appears not to have enjoyed it. I wonder if he and Marie Laurencin ever met, even in passing?
In Paris, Marie Laurencin moved in the same circles as Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia and George Braque, a prelude to a fascinating career, including being a distinguished portrait painter, a book illustrator and a costume designer for the Ballets Russes. It is to Japan’s credit that the Marie Laurencin museum is based there, the first museum in the world dedicated to a female painter, opened in 1983 – and you can understand why it is in Japan when you see the delicacy of her paintings.
In some ways, the exhibition at Nahmad Projects just lifts a small little corner of the fascinating career of Marie Laurencin and whets the appetite for a much more extensive review of her career.