Guest Blog: Art Inconnu

Editorial Staff Art, Magazine is very pleased to inaugurate a new bi-monthly series that features guest bloggers on topics related to art, antiques, archives, collecting, design, and more. Today we’ve invited Thomas of Art Inconnu—a blog devoted to forgotten and underappreciated artists—to share a selection of modern female painters  included on his website.  Here are his picks:

Suzanne Lalique (French, 1898-1989)
Best remembered as the daughter of René Lalique and designer of several of his famous glass vases, Suzanne Lalique was a fine painter who worked in a variety of styles. Her 1917 marriage to Paul Haviland, photographer and head of the Haviland Limoges pottery company, created the Lalique-Haviland brand for which she produced numerous designs in both pottery and glass. While some of her later paintings have not dated well, the intimate domestic still lives she created in the 1930s are to my eye some of the most original and beautiful of the period.


Nella Marchesini (Italian, 1901-1953)
Little is known of Nella Marchesini. The majority of her works seem to date from the 1920s and 1930s before the policies of Mussolini forced her and her husband, the painter Ugo Malvano, to relocate to the Turinese hills. Initially working under the influence of her teacher Felice Casorati, Marchesini’s rather stiff and polished studies later give way to the works that caught my eye: the diaphanous paintings of the early 1930s which in their brittle brushwork and stylisation evoke the work of her compatriot Modigliani. Unknown outside Italy, she was forgotten even there until a resurgence of interest in the 1970s saw twenty of her works acquired by the Gallery of Modern Art, Turin in 1979.

Lotte Laserstein (German, 1898-1993)

“Neue Frau” was the name given to the generation of young, independent and modish females that emerged in inter-war Germany, and it is these women that populate the canvasses of Lotte Laserstein. Laserstein recorded the era with monumental, innovative compositions featuring the liberated, socially active youth of Berlin. Part Jewish, she emigrated to Sweden at the outbreak of the Second World War and it was there, after decades spent working in obscurity as a portrait painter, that Laserstein was discovered in 1986 by a writer researching her teacher Erich Wolfsfeld. The paintings that crowded her tiny apartment were flown to London the following year where they were shown in an acclaimed exhibition, before disappearing into private collections around the world.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (Irish, 1852-1936)
Traquair was the first significant female artist to work in modern Scotland and was a key figure in the arts and crafts movement there. She reared three children and maintained a normal domestic life whilst somehow finding the time to produce a body of work that can only be described as staggering in its quality, diversity and volume. She moved with ease between disciplines such as bookbinding, enamel work, mural painting, embroidery, manuscript illumination and furniture decoration. This petite artist, described by W.B. Yeats as “a little singing bird,” decorated the interiors of at least six buildings with her remarkable murals, including the huge walls of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Edinburgh (now the Mansfield Traquair Centre.) Forgotten for decades, she was re-evaluated in the 1980s and a 1993 retrospective went someway to restoring her reputation, although she is still largely unknown outside the United Kingdom.

Vera Rockline (Russian, 1896-1934)
Rockline languished in obscurity for decades after her death but her works are now highly sought after in a revitalised Russian art market. Taught by Aleksandra Exter in Kiev, she emigrated to Paris in 1921 and held her first solo exhibition there in 1925. Nine years later Rockline was dead, but it is testament to her talent that her work had already matured greatly from the severe cubism of her earliest pieces. To me her elegant and lyrical later works capture not only the beauty of the female form but also something of the poverty and uncertainty of the life of the expatriate painter in Paris at that time. It’s clear that the grim palette of those early cubist compositions has not disappeared entirely, and while the bodies are glowing and jewels are abundant the surroundings are always frayed and sparse. The sleeping nude was a subject she returned to on many occasions.

Olga Boznanska (Polish, 1865-1940)
A series of personal tragedies left Boznanska a forgotten recluse in the decade before her death, but her artistic career had been glittering. Handed a plethora of awards including the Légion d’honneur and the Polonia Restituta, Boznanska gained commissions from every corner of Europe. Working primarily on unprimed cardboard which gives the surface of her paintings a dry, matte appearance, her mature works are characterised by shimmering, scumbled brushwork, a lightness of touch, and true psychological insight into her sitters. The quality of her portraits and the innovative techniques used in their creation make her in my opinion one of the most interesting and underrated female painters of the 20th century.

*  Themed books and exhibitions are a great way of finding new art. For a beginner, books such as 500 Self Portraits by Julian Bell (Phaidon, 2004) or 1001 Paintings at the Louvre by Vincent Pomarède (5Continents, 2006) will immediately take the reader beyond the big names in art, and expose them to hundreds of works by artists who would not normally merit a publication or exhibition of their own. While much of the work featured may be fairly mainstream, a new name or movement can provide a jumping-off point for further research. Publications dedicated to little known artists are few and far between but Modern Figurative Paintings: The Paris Connection (Schiffer, 2004) is a fine example, a book featuring over 150 artists which focuses solely on forgottten painters who worked in Paris between 1890 and 1950. Local museums are also a good source for independently published books on small schools of art and provincial artists.

*  Auction catalogues serve a similar purpose, each containing reproductions of hundreds of different artists, many extremely obscure, with catalogues available very cheaply in many second hand book stores.

*  The internet has of course made researching minor artists a breeze, and there is a wealth of material out there with niche blogs covering every conceivable subject. Additionally, a bewildering volume of artworks that once languished in museum storerooms are now catalogued, digitized and available to browse online on official museum or local authority websites.

Images from above (left to right): Lalique: Les cravats de monsieur; L’Ami de peuple; Photos de famille. Marchesini: Portrait of a Woman with Hat (self portrait), 1925-8; The Family, 1928-30; Self Portrait with Irises, 1931. Laserstein: Evening over Potsdam, 1930; Morning Toilette, 1930; The Motorcyclist, 1929. Traquair: Loves Testament, 1898; The Progess of a Soul (four-part tapestry), 1893-1901. Rockline: Dancer in a Red Hat; Sleeping Nude; Sleeping Nude. Boznanska: Portrait of a Young Lady, 1899; Motherhood, 1902;  Portrait of Lady Dygat, 1903.