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Séraphine

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Justin Swanton
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Location: Durban, South Africa
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Séraphine

Postby Justin Swanton » Wed March 21st, 2012, 10:51 am

[I've posted this elsewhere but thought it well worth putting here in a separate thread]

The story of Séraphine de Senlis, French painter of the Naive style. She was a penniless housekeeper, her art entirely self-taught, who created pigments out of unusual and exotic ingredients, painting secretly by candlelight in her apartment in the evenings. She was discovered quite by chance in 1912, when she was 48, by Wilhelm Uhde, a German art collector.

Her life has all the hallmarks of a grand tragedy. Uhde's encouragement and help were cut short by the First World War, when he had to flee Senlis. In the movie he tells her to work hard, improve her style, and he would come back one day to make her known. But he forgot her, convinced she had died in the interim, and saw her again only in 1927 when he came across one of her paintings in an exhibition of local artists in Senlis. She had done as he said, working ceaselessly at her art, though she remained very poor.

The next few years were her apogee. Under Udhe's patronage she became the foremost Naive artist of her day, painting canvases up to two metres tall. In 1929 an exhibition featuring her paintings brought her financial success. She could not manage money, spending freely and living a fairyland life.

Then came the Depression. Uhde could no longer sell her work and was forced to stop buying from her. It was too much: having spent her life 'walking a tightrope between ecstasy and mental illness', she became unhinged and was taken to Clermont's lunatic asylum in 1932. She never painted again and died alone in 1942 in in a hospital annex at Villers-sous-Erquery.

The movie is faithful to the facts and renders the pathos of her life as only a European movie of the first order can. The sources of her inspiration - her love of nature and her Faith - are exquisitely rendered. With a couple of reservations I would give this movie five stars.
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