Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas were picky about the women they considered friends. Marie Laurencin (October 31, 1883–June 8, 1956), the only woman painter in Stein's circle of artist friends, remained a friend throughout her life with Stein (February 3, 1874—July 27, 1946) and Toklas (April 30, 1877 – March 7, 1967).
MAGNIFYING MARIE LAURENCIN
While the Steiny Road Poet (a.k.a. Karren LaLonde Alenier) prominently shows Marie Laurencin in the first "act" of her opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, recently the muse has called upon the Steiny Poet to write more about this enigmatic French artist. Here is unset dialogue from Karren Alenier's Stein opera with composer William Banfield, showing Marie in a drunken state but talking animatedly with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, her lover Guillaume Apollinaire, and Rousseau himself about Henri Rousseau's painting "The Snake Charmer" (1907).
[Taking a gulp of her wine.]
I want to know about her shaggy
hair. Did her mother put ribbons
there? I want to touch her long
black locks. What freedom
made her mock
clothing so? Guillaume, Cheri,
hand me my lorgnette.
[Guillaume pulls from his pocket a folded lorgnette, opens out the handle and offers it to Marie. She gives him her brush in exchange for the glasses.]
Gertrude, you magnifying glass, come
link arms that we may study this portrait
[She staggers over to Gertrude and hooks her arm into Gertrude's. Alice frowns and then takes Marie back to Guillaume.]
Monsieur Rousseau, I want to know
about her shaggy hair.
Yes, the way it snakes
to her voluptuous
[Pablo runs his hand down Fernande's leg as he eyes Marie. Fernande, glaring first at Pablo and then Marie, goes to the table for a goblet of wine.]
[oblivious to everyone except Marie:]
And her thighs,
Who or what
She loves her mother.
[Suddenly pulled to his senses.]
You've got to be kidding.
Guess her mother doesn't sit
at the gaming tables all day.
[He takes a goblet and drinks.]
She loves her mother.
Just like me,
having the buttons
to prove it.
Leave Mother out of this!
It's Alice, not Mother,
Isn't the pink-winged
bird a bit like us?
[Drinks and then throws down her goblet.]
What is a genius?
Henri, come sit
on the throne
I've made for you.
[Pablo escorts Henri to the throne.]
The legs are uneven,
the arms a bit cracked.
Yes, do, Monsieur Rousseau,
before the candle wax melts
and ruins the floor for dance.
[Marie holds her arms out and spins, avoiding the broken goblet.]
Rousseau, known for his primitive/naÃ¯ve style, immortalized Laurencin with Apollinaire in his painting "The Muse Inspiring the Poet" (1908). In this painting, despite the title, which focuses on Apollinaire, Laurencin literally is given the upper hand and appropriates the garden landscape. Rousseau made her larger than Apollinaire.
While Laurencin has also been called a primitive painter who early in her career was discussed as a Cubist, especially for her painting, "Group of Artists," which depicts Apollinaire, Picasso, Fernande Oliver, and the artist herself towering over her friends, Laurencin developed her own style and subject matter that is easily recognizable—subject matter is usually women and often the women are aspects of Laurencin with large eyes. Laurencin's color palette is pastel pinks, blues, violets, which to Western tastes indicate feminine choices. Gertrude Stein officially cemented Laurencin's career by being the first buyer of Laurencin's art—in fact, Stein purchased "Group of Artists."
IN THE CLOSETS OF AN ARTIST
What is generally not known about Laurencin is that she wrote poetry and had a collection of 5,000 books. More recently scholars such as Elizabeth Louise Kahn (Marie Laurencin: Une Femme InadaptÃ©e in Feminist Histories of Art, Ashgate Publishing Company, VT, 2003) have asserted that despite Laurencin being known as the girl friend of Guilliame Apollinaire and having married the German artist named Otto von Waetjen, she was a Lesbian.
The short version of Laurencin's story is that she carefully used her association with Picasso, Apollinaire, AndrÃ© Salmon and other men to surreptitiously build her career as an artist. This is what a woman of the twentieth century in the arts had to do to get noticed. Quite frankly, has the situation changed that much for women in our new millennium?
Because Laurencin never lived with Apollinaire and their relationship was quite stormy—he often knocked her around—and her marriage to the German artist was short lived, especially because it made her a German citizen just before the outbreak of World War I and they had to flee her much beloved France, the belief that she did not have a sexual relationship with either of these men seems quite possible. After all, there were plenty of unusual couples in Gertrude Stein's circle of friends, including novelist/photographer Carl Van Vechten and his singer wife Fania Marinoff and composer/novelist/poet Paul Bowles and his wife novelist-playwright wife Jane Auer Bowles. What clouds Laurencin's story is that she had her adopted daughter, a fully grown woman with whom she was probably having an affair, bury her in a white dress holding a rose in one hand and clutching Apollinaire's letters to her heart with the other hand.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ROSE
Here's a poetic fragment from Le Carnet des Nuits, a diary written by Marie Laurencin and published in Belgium in 1942.
Les rosiers ont des roses—
C'est toujours la meme que je vois.
Une rose, c'est quelque chose.
La vie pour les femmes est si difficile.
Elizabeth Louise Kahn provides this literal translation, which points up how the struggle as a woman [presumably against the world dominated by men] weighed on Laurencin.
Rose bushes have roses—
It is always the same one that I see.
A rose is something.
Life for women is so difficult.
In the case of Marie Laurencin, the Steiny Road Poet thinks that a rose is not necessarily a rose and that is perhaps why Stein and Toklas remained friends with this enigmatic artist.