Marie Vassilieff, a figure of Montparnasse

Marie Vassilieff, a figure of Montparnasse

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Portrait of Marie Vassilieff

© Public establishment of the Palais de la Porte Dorée.

Publication date: December 2016

Heritage Curator, Head of Historical Collections, National Museum of the History of Immigration

Historical context

Marie Vassilieff and the School of Paris

Born in 1884, Marie Vassilieff studied medicine and art in Saint Petersburg. She then worked as a correspondent for Russian newspapers and continued her artistic training with Henri Matisse.

Marie Vassilieff participated in the Russian Academy from 1910 to 1912 before creating her own academy in the Montparnasse district which, due to the low rental price, is booming and attracts many artists and foreigners.

The Vassilieff Academy becomes an essential place where Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Erik Satie or Chaïm Soutine rub shoulders ... During the Great War, Marie Vassilieff joined the French Red Cross as an ambulance attendant and transformed her workshop where she teaches cubism, in canteen for immigrants and artists.

The interwar period was a time marked by international exhibitions. Marie Vassilieff then receives the order for large sets.

Image Analysis

Is modern woman above all an image?

Under the bright light of a projector, Marie Vassilieff is photographed full-length in a bare interior where only the back curtain and the floor are visible. Its silhouette is slender and as in its Doll-self-portrait of 1929, she lifts her arms above her head. Eccentric attitude reminiscent of that of primitive deities and nevertheless appreciated because it was also used in a portrait of 1922 with a tiara and a traditional Russian costume.

The originality of the gestures in Marie Vassilieff testifies to her interest in the movement of the body and its staging. In L'Self-portrait with doll, dated 1929, she carries on her knees her Doll-self-portrait by raising his hands to the level of his head, in an attitude similar to that of his portraits. The fusion between the woman and the doll-automaton then reaches its climax. Marie Vassilieff considers the doll to be a way of dramatizing life. Her creations take place in ballets that she performs as well as in Parisian balls which multiplied during the 1920s and constitute a source of artistic emulation.


The artist in his studio

The appearance of women artists is not necessarily modeled on that of artistic movements and Paris, on the contrary, concentrates on singular paths. Marie Vassilieff is a social artist like the other figures of the avant-garde. She thus plays a major role in the dissemination of the work of Henri Matisse through her articles which will make him known to collectors such as Sergey Shchukin.
Marie Vassilieff questions here both her identity as a woman and as a designer by adopting a puppet attitude. The fusion between the woman and the doll-automaton is taken to its climax, and the artist considers that the doll is another way of dramatizing life. These creations coincide with the proliferation of Parisian balls in the 1920s and are a source of artistic emulation. Along with her investment in the world of theater, dance, fashion and ballroom, she also favored more religious themes from 1922 in accordance with the return to the moral order of the time.
Like most Russian women who remained in France, Marie Vassilieff had to work during World War I to support herself. His family, during the Russian Revolution, can no longer help him. Marie Vassilieff also sells works: her dolls are very lucrative, unlike the photographs, more personal and testifying to her mastery of technology.

In this context, in her studio, Marie Vassilieff affirms her status as an artist and a woman. The workshop is both a place of learning and for modern women, a space of freedom. It allows him, by bringing together artists, to "to found a society based on freedom, equality, fraternity, on the republican ideal in short. »

  • Russia
  • women
  • artist
  • Paris
  • artist workshops
  • avant-garde
  • Matisse (Henri)

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To cite this article

Magdalena RUIZ MARMOLEJO, "Marie Vassilieff, a figure of Montparnasse"

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