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The Faces That Launched a Thousand Paintings – five online talks by Mary Lynn Riley

posted on 23/05/22


When does a model become a muse? When does a woman become more than the subject of a painting? The model may be pleasing, exotic, or embody a character type. The muse is indispensable. She is a source of inspiration, an object of obsession, and inseparable from the creative act. History has often celebrated the work of the most famous men of the art world without acknowledging the importance of the women who inspired it.

This series focuses on the influence of five women on several of the most important artists of the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries: Marthe de Méligny for Pierre Bonnard, Bella Rosenfeld for Marc Chagall, Marie-Thérèse Walter for Pablo Picasso, Lydia Delectorskaya for Henri Matisse and Misia Godebska Sert, the ultimate muse, who held Edouard Vuillard, Felix Vallotton, and numerous others in her spell.

They take place every Thursday from 6th October to 3rd November at 4.30pm (GMT +1) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (29th December 2022).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. Misia Godebska Sert: the seductive patroness (6th October 2022)

Polish pianist, Misia Godebska Sert, came to France at the age of 15 where she studied with Gabriel Fauré. After marrying Thadée Nathanson, the editor of La Révue Blanche, she became the hostess of one of the most important Parisian salons of the 1890s. Painters, writers, and musicians flocked around her. Charming and charismatic, she was equally manipulative and cruel. Renoir, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, and Vallotton immortalized her in a multitude of paintings, drawings, prints and photos. We will look at her extraordinary life via the extraordinary works she inspired.

2. Marthe de Méligny: the enigmatic recluse (13th October 2022)

In 1893, Pierre Bonnard prevented a young woman from stepping into the path of a Parisian street car.  This chance encounter with the woman who called herself Marthe de Méligny proved decisive for Bonnard and the direction his work would take thereafter.  Marthe became a constant presence in Bonnard’s painting:  the surprisingly intimate and erotic bedroom interiors, the vibrantly coloured domestic scenes fraught with underlying tension, and finally in the ethereal nudes in the bathtub.  Her face continued to float in his canvases even after her death.

3. Bella Rosenfeld: the eternal bride (20th October 2022)

Marc Chagall never ceased to marvel at the fact that the beautiful Bella Rosenfeld, daughter of a wealthy jeweler, consented to be the bride of a poor painter, son of a herring merchant.  Bella is everywhere in Chagall’s work: flying hand in hand with the artist over Russian villages, towering over him as a protector, whispering words of inspiration into his ear.  She is the cherished bride seen so often in Chagall’s highly personal iconography.  We will follow these visions of Bella from life in Vitebsk, through exile in the United States, to images of her in the late magical canvases done in the south of France.

4. Marie-Thérèse Walter: the clandestine passion (27th October 2022)

Pablo Picasso’s life and work can be traced through the faces of his many lovers. He indeed had multiple muses.  This talk will concentrate on one muse who had a particularly important impact on him at a crucial point in his career:  Marie-Thérèse Walter, who became Picasso’s mistress and model when she was only 17 years old.  Her youth and her generous but athletic forms inspired an explosion of creative energy in the 45 year old painter at the height of his powers.  Marie-Thérèse inspired many of Picasso’s most sensual, colourful, and inventive works.

5. Lydia Delectorskaya: the devoted guardian (3rd November 2022)

Lydia Delectorskaya, a young Russian immigrant, was first hired by Henri Matisse as a temporary studio assistant in 1932.  Given her desperate financial situation, Matisse subsequently took her on as a domestic helper for his invalid wife.  One day the artist saw her leaning against the back of a chair, her head resting on her crossed arms.  Matisse exclaimed, “Don’t move!” and he began to draw her in his sketchbook.  This was the beginning of Lydia’s unique 22 year career as Matisse’s most cherished model, studio manager, and indispensable creative assistant.

Image: La Revue Blanche, courtesy of The Met Museum.


The speaker

Mary Lynn Riley

Resident on the Côte d’Azur and a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century modern and contemporary art. She designs and teaches art courses and art appreciation workshops for adults at the Musée Bonnard in Le Cannet and lectures at other area museums. She completed her Master of Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, USA and previously worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series

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