History Lesson: Seraphine de Senlis
As an adult, Seraphine rented a small secluded room in the town of Senlis, France where she lived and painted by candle light at night ‘using colors that she made herself from unusual and exotic ingredients she never revealed that have stood the test of time for durable vividness.
In 1912 Seraphine’s paintings were discovered by the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde. Uhde came to Senlis for a rest from his work as an art critic. He had rented a large apartment and hired Seraphine as his housekeeper. His neighbors upon finding out that they were living next to the prominent art dealer, critic, writer and collector Wilhelm Uhde invited him to a dinner party to discuss art and culture. Uhde accepted the invitation and attended. During dinner Uhde saw a painting of some Apples, striking and unusual in color and form, he Marveled at the beauty, strangeness and artistry of the piece. Uhde inquired about the artist learning that it was in fact a painting done by his housekeeper Seraphine.
Uhde smitten with this painting buys it outright from his neighbor and rushes home. Upon his discovery he confronts Seraphine and slowly over a brief two years the two begin a friendship. Uhde begun to collect a number Seraphine’s work paying her cash in hopes it would support her and encourage her to paint more.
In 1914 the war broke out between France and Germany, Uhde feared for his life and fled France entirely in the middle of the night with his sister, taking only what he could carry which included a painting by Henri Rousseau. Other paintings he had collected were left behind. As the town of Senlis was pillaged, Uhde’s collection was confiscated and sold at auction or destroyed. Among these were the acquired paintings of Seraphine Louis which have been lost forever.
It was not until years later in 1927 when Uhde rediscovered Seraphine’s paintings. Living in Chantilly, France at the time, he attended an exhibition of painted works done by amateur artists from Senlis. He saw a painting that he recognized to be Seraphine’s and knew he had to see if his great painter had survived the war. He traveled back to Senlis to find her still living in quiet isolation in her tiny room filled with more paintings and an alter of candles illuminating a picture of the Virgin Mary. The desolation of WWI had left Seraphine even more poverty stricken and hungry than ever before. Uhde, speechless and overwhelmed with joy to have reunited with her became her benefactor, supplying her with deliveries of large canvases, paints and supplies and a stipend. Seraphine’s paintings became larger and larger and more saturated with rich colors of fantastical floral arrangements. The larger her work became the more it began to sell. Life for Seraphine Louis, for only a short while was enjoyable. Her friendship with Uhde had catapulted her into a period of financial success she had never known before. She now could paint all day, all night at any hour in a studio separate from her living quarters. Such luxury she had never known before and was ill equipped to handle. This new financial equanimity overwhelmed her, she squandered much of her new wealth on frivolities.
The onset of the Great Depression devastated the world. In 1930 art buyers and collectors could no longer afford to buy the work that they loved and supported. Uhde suffering the effects as well, could no longer afford to support Seraphine as an artist or her personal expenditures. Shortly thereafter Seraphine’s mental state became erratic and unstable she grew depressed, despondent and began to slip into lunacy. In 1932 she was admitted into a hospital for the insane for chronic psychosis where she died in 1942 alone.
While hospitalized and after her death Uhde continued to show her paintings. At the Modern Primitives Exhibition in Paris in 1932, as well as Popular Masters of Reality in Paris in 1937, in addition to other shows including a solo show in Paris and in New York at The Museum of Modern Art. Her paintings are now part of the collections of the Musée d’art de Senlis, Musee Malliol in Paris, the Musée d’art naïf in Nice, and the Musée d’Art moderne Lille Métropole in Villeneuve d’Ascq.
SOURCE: Dee Clements on Sunday, April 25th, 2010, on www.papercrane.com
CHECK OUT THE TRAILER OF THE MOVIE, SERAPHINE, BASED ON THE ARTIST'S LIFE IN SENLIS, FRANCE