Monday, 30 November 2009

Seraphine de Senlis

I went to see a new movie that's out called 'Seraphine.' It's in French, with English subtitles. It's about Seraphine Louis, a cleaning lady for middle class families in rural France who began painting at the age of 41 because her guardian angel told her to do it. After hours spent in the day doing physically demanding labour of cleaning people's houses, beating the dirt out of laundry on river banks and working at the butcher's she would go home and paint all night by candlelight. The few centimes she earned she spent on paint and canvases instead of food and rent. To this day, no one is sure what materials she used to create the glossy, waxy look of her paintings which were mostly flowers in colourful bloom. (The one on the left is painted on a two metre long canvas). It is speculated that she used paraffin and wax stolen from prayer chapels in church, mud and twigs from river banks and blood from the butcher's shop where she worked. She was a devout catholic and sang the latin mass and hymns as she painted at night.

As the story goes, she painted herself into a mental asylum and eventually died in comfortable isolation in her seventies. But, not before she was discovered by a German art collector and dealer named Wilhelm Uhde who turned out to be her patron and protector.
The movie was cinematically evocative from the deep throated sounds of latin mass being sung to the click-clackety metallic heels worn by Seraphine's character, played by Yolande Moreau. It won awards at Cannes and not without reason. I recommend this movie to art fans and artists (writers, dancers, actors etc.) alike if not for a life-like depiction of what it is to be consumed by passion for your art and driven to express it through your physical being, then at least to appreciate the stellar performance of Yolande Moreau.

I've finally found a reason to visit Paris again (after at least two years away) - the Musee Malliol where a few of her paintings are supposedly on permanent exhibition. Anyone with me?

1 comment:

alisha said...

Thanks so much for this recommendation - it's found a firm place on my 'to watch in NZ' list!