Poverty, madness and creative genius, unfortunately often makes for a good story, which is why Plant Curator is keen to see the 2008 film Séraphine. Based on the life of French artist Séraphine de Senlis (1864–1942), it gives an account of her rather sad but artistically productive life. Born into a poor family of labourers and farmers, she was an orphan by the age of seven. Brought up by her sister, she worked first as a shepherdess and later as a maid. It was in the latter profession that her luck temporarily changed. In 1913, the German collector Wilhelm Uhde, the first buyer of Picasso and discoverer of Henri Rousseau, hired her to work for him at the age of 48. What happened next is described in Germain Greer’s book The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work:
“He saw a still-life of apples in a neighbour’s house and was astonished to discover that Séraphine was the artist. He supplied her with the materials that she had never had and encouraged her to paint until the war drove him out of France. When he returned, he did not scruple to collect all of Séraphine’s work, as if she had been under contract to him. Her first exhibition was held at the Galerie des Quatre Chemins in 1927.”
This relationship brought her financial and artistic rewards for a while, but eventually the Great Depression reduced the demand for artworks and left Uhde with no choice but to stop buying her paintings. Not long after she was treated for “chronic psychosis” and in 1932 admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Clermont, Oise. She stopped painting and died poor at the aged of 78.
Below are some of her fantastical, sonic, showy floral arrangements, proving that you do not need to take one art class to achieve artistic brilliance.
L’arbre de vie (1928).
L’arbre de Paradis (1928-30).
Bouquet de fleurs