The Marvelous Madame Marval: A Woman Artist Among the Fauves

   3658    4
The Marvelous Madame Marval: A Woman Artist Among the Fauves
In his April 5, 1912 article in Le Petit Bleu on women artists, celebrated poet and art critique extraordinare, Guillaume Apollinaire, wrote: “Just as our age has allowed some female talents to blossom in the world of letters, so it has produced a number of female personalities in art that cannot be ignored. During the 1911-12 season, a large number of individual exhibitions have displayed works of art done by women. Never before this winter, either in Paris or elsewhere, has one seen so many women prove that their artistic abilities are in no way inferior to those of men. What women contribute to art is not technical innovations, but rather taste, intuition, and something like a new and joyous vision of the universe.” (Translated by Susan Suleiman, in Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Review, 1902-1918, edited by Leroy C. Breunig, 1972). Highlighting numerous examples in art history and the present, Apollinaire singles out Jacqueline Marval with this praise: “Mme. Marval has offered art-lovers an entirely different kind of treat. This artist has imagination, and a very personal talent. Abstraction is not her strong point, but she has a marvelous ability to reveal the poetic reality of her subjects. . . In her large canvas of odalisques, Mme. Marval has given the measure of her talent and has achieved a work of importance for modern painting. This strong and sensual work, freely painted and wholly personal in composition, line and coloring, deserves to survive.” (Translated by Susan Suleiman) The second of eight children, Jacqueline Marval was born on October 19, 1866 as Marie-Josephine Vallet in Quaix-en-Chartreuse, near Grenoble, France. Both parents were schoolteachers. Her father was an amateur musician and painter. In 1884 she too became a school teacher and also an amateur painter, exhibiting her work as Marie Jacques. In 1886 she married Albert Valentin, a traveling salesman. However, in 1891 the couple lost their infant son and the marriage unravelled. Marval left her husband and moved to Grenoble, making a living sewing waistcoats. There she met the younger modernist painter Jules Flandrin (1891-1947), born in Corenc, also not far from Grenoble.  In 1895, Marval moved to Paris to live with Flandrin, already settled there since 1893. Flandrin studied with École de Beaux-Arts professor Gustave Moreau in his rue de la Rochefoucauld atelier, through 1898, along with classmates Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Charles Camoin, Charles Guérin, and Georges Rouault, who became the infamous “fauves” (wild beasts) contingent. A forgotten member of the Fauves, Marval shared their love of bright colors, strong contrasts and sensual subject matter. Her earliest work featured women in various contexts, from cozy domesticity to rather glacial eroticism. There is no doubt that she influenced Jules Flandrin as much as he influenced her. Their stylistic affinities produced a confident sculptural style that emphasized firm contours reminiscent of Renoir’s retreat from Impressionism in the 1880s and 1890s. “Marval was the glorious explorer of the Fauvism’s virgin forest, where, as a subtle white panther, she led the horde of Fauves– Matisse, Braque, Vlaminck, Dufy, Friesz and van Dongen– on new pathways of a new war against academism. She was the clear and divine agitator of the revolt, which Jules Flandrin brought back to his Grenoble each year during his vacations.” (Andry-Farcy, “Introduction,” Jacqueline Marval, exhibition catalogue, Musée de Beaux-Arts de Grenoble, Paris: Editions Albert Morance, 1929.) And yet, as Cubism replaced Fauvism as the avant-garde, bringing into vogue their severe geometric forms, Marval and Flandrin gravitated toward the older, soft-focus Post-Impressionism practiced by Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. In Marval’s work particularly we see her shift from crisp, clear radiance to painterly pastels similar to her younger contemporary Marie Laurencin. Not surprisingly, in 1913, Marval, Bonnard, Maurice Denis and the sculpture Antoine Bourdelle joined forces to decorate the new Théatre des Champs-Élysées. (Note that Jacqueline Marval’s contribution is not mentioned.) During that same year, the artist Francis Picabia invited Marval to participate in the famous New York Armory Show, which traveled to Chicago, exhibiting Odalisques in the Mirror (1911) among a vast array of international modern artworks, mainly from France, in a historic effort to introduce the American public to contemporary trends. Three years later, in 1916, during World War I, the poet/critique André Salmon curated a rather ambitious exhibition called L’Art Moderne en France (a.k.a. Le Salon d’Antin), installed in the Galerie Barbazanges owned by the couturier Paul Poiret. There Marval’s Odalisques (1903) hung next to Pablo Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which appeared for the first time outside the Spanish artist’s studio. Salmon’s juxtaposition of the two equally large paintings unleashed a dialogue that amply informed the viewers…

Lead photo credit : Les Odalisque

Previous Article Marché Lecourbe, A Paris Memory
Next Article Paris Vignettes, Volume 7, by Photographer William O’Such

Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.


    2020-04-07 15:16:19
    Another fascinating article from Beth about an artist I shamefully knew nothing about. Lovely paintings. Thanks Beth for continuing my education