Day Seven- Séraphine Louis- Magically Naive

I can’t believe it’s already day seven!  It’s officially been a week since I’ve started my project and today’s artist is…

Séraphine Louis!

Seraphine Louis
Seraphine Louis

I knew nothing of Séraphine of Senlis, a French painter in the Naive style.  I spent a good amount of time last night and this morning staring at her intense paintings, usually of complex floral arrangements and trees.  The

Still from Seraphine 2008
Still from Seraphine 2008

swirling colors and richness of her paintings is undeniable.  Let’s learn about this wonderful woman.  Because of my ongoing illness, I’m taking my info from wikipedia.  I also learned there was a movie that came out in 2008, called Séraphine, that is based on her life.

Self-taught, she was inspired by her religious faith and by stained-glass church windows and other religious art. The intensity of her images, both in colour and in replicative designs, are sometimes interpreted as a reflection of her own psyche, walking a tightrope between ecstasy and mental illness.

Louis was born in Arsy (Oise) on September 3, 1864. Her father was a manual laborer and her mother came from a farmworking background. Louis’s mother died on her first birthday and her father, who remarried, SeraphineLouisalso died before she was seven; at which point, she came under the charge of her eldest sister. She first worked as ashepherdess but, by 1881, she was engaged as a domestic worker at the convent of the Sisters of Providence in Clermont (Oise). Beginning in 1901, she was employed as a housekeeper for middle-class families in the town of Senlis.

In addition to her arduous day jobs, Louis painted by candlelight, largely in secret isolation, until her considerable body of work was discovered in 1912 by German art collector Wilhelm Uhde. While in Senlis, Uhde saw a still-life of apples at his neighbor’s house and was astonished to learn that Louis, his housecleaner, was the artist.  His support had barely begun to lift her horizons when he was forced to leave France in August 1914; the war between France and Germany had made him an unwelcome outsider in Senlis, much as Louis was, given her eccentric persona. They only reestablished contact in 1927 when Uhde – back in France and living in Chantilly – visited an exhibition of local artists in Senlis and, seeing seraphine_louis1Louis’s work, realized that she had survived and her art had flourished. Under Uhde’s patronage, Louis began painting large canvases as large as two meters high, and she achieved prominence as the naïve painter of her day. In 1929, Uhde organized an exhibition, “Painters of the Sacred Heart,” that featured Louis’s art, launching her into a period of financial success she had never known – and was ill prepared to manage. Then, in 1930, with the effects of the Great Depression destroying the finances of her patrons, Uhde had no choice but to stop buying her paintings.

In 1932, Louis was admitted for “chronic psychosis” at Clermont’s lunatic asylum, where her artistry found no outlet. Although Uhde reported that she had died in 1934, some say that Louis actually lived until 1942 in a hospital annex at Villers-sous-Erquery, where she died friendless and alone.  She was buried in a common grave.

Uhde continued to exhibit her work: in 1932, at the exhibition “The Modern Primitives” in Paris; in 1937-38 in an exhibition titled “The Popular Masters of Reality” which showed in Paris, Zurich, and New York (at the 93535_originalMuseum of Modern Art); in 1942, at the “Primitives of the 20th Century” exhibition in Paris, and finally, in 1945, in a solo exhibition of her work in Paris.

Louis’s works are predominantly rich fantasies of intensely repeated and embellished floral arrangements. She used colours and pigments that she made herself from unusual and exotic ingredients she never revealed that have stood the test of time for durable vividness. Her paintings’ surfaces have a matte, almost waxy appearance. Sometimes her signature (typically “S. Louis”) was carved by knife, revealing a ground of contrasting colour. In some cases, she appears to have signed her paintings before painting them.

I’m going to be quite honest, I thought this painting was going to be a piece of cake.  Boy, was I wrong…I think imagesthis painting has taken be the longest so far AND I could’ve kept going with the details.  It never seemed quite right.  This is also the subject matter that I would probably never think to paint.  Despite the difficulty and my initial disinterest in the matter, I learned so much about color and detailing.  Did I mention color?  I kept thinking things like, “Nope, that’s not the right brown…and my nose is leaking.” 😉

The pieces above were also my inspiration, but here’s a couple that I focused the most on.  I also took aspects of detailing from various artworks.




And finally here’s my journey to my finished piece!  I’m proud of it and I hope I did Séraphine of Senlis justice.

Today was a waiting for paint to dry type of day...
Today was a waiting for paint to dry type of day…
More color!
More color!
Flowering Tree- Tribute to Seraphine Louis- Linda Cleary 2014- Acrylic on canvas
Flowering Tree- Tribute to Seraphine Louis- Linda Cleary 2014- Acrylic on canvas
From the side
From the side

Thank you for sharing in my art as well as this lovely woman’s.  Onward to day EIGHT!

Best, Linda


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