Maria Konstantinowna Bashkirtseff

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Maria Konstantinowna Bashkirtseff

Ukrainian Naturalist painter, sculptor, author and musician

Born 1858 - Died 1884

Born in Gavrontsy (Poltava oblast, Ukraine)

Died in Paris (Departement de Ville de Paris, Ile-de-France, France)

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Painter, sculptor, proto-feminist and creator of one of the most extraordinary journals ever written, Marie Bashkirtseff (November 24, 1858 - October, 31 1884) was born in Ukraine to a somewhat nomadic and eccentric family of petite noblesse. From an early age, Marie's intelligence and the force of her personality held sway over her wandering, expatriate family. And wander they did, back and forth across the face of Europe and Russia.

In 1873 she was 14 years old, living in a sun swept villa on the shore of Mediterranean - along with her mother, aunt, brother, grandfather, family doctor, a train of servants, a monkey and dogs (always her beloved dogs) - when she began inscribing the events of her seaside days: her infatuations, acute and precocious observations, passions, dreams, radiant artistic notions, loves - every topic that fell into the ken of her encompassing mind and luminous vision.

Marie's devotion to beauty and the fine arts defined the focus of her brief, prolific life. In 1877 - against the wishes of family and the orders of her doctors - she moved from the temperate climate of Nice to Paris in order to study painting. She enrolled in the Academie Julian, the only art school in Paris at that time accepting women; during this period Marie also began attending meetings of "Le Droit des Femmes," the leading society of the emerging French feminist movement. At the Academie, Rodolphe Julian, the founder, and Tony Robert-Fleury took an immediate and great interest in her talent, and of the overwhelming force of her fiercely determined self. Simultaneous to her artistic development, Marie published articles regarding the Rights of Women, writing under the nom de plume of Pauline Orell. Always, in every endeavor, Marie seemed engaged in an inexorable battle with passing time, sensing from early on that her own time was short. In spite of her personal wealth and illness, she worked tirelessly - eight to twelve or more hours a day, virtually for the remainder of her life. After a relatively short period of study, M. Julian asked Marie to paint a large canvas depicting his Academie, for submission to the Salon. Her painting, L'Atelier Julian (The Studio), has long been regarded as a masterwork of La Belle Epoque.

Scarcely known in her lifetime, Marie Bashkirtseff's paintings, sculptures and her epic, monumental Journal have established her as one of the great women of the 19th century.

She died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in Paris at the age of 25, feeling she had accomplished little. Her mausoleum in Cimetiere de Passy depicts an artist's studio in stone, and is a French Heritage site.

Upwards of two hundred of Marie Bashkirtseff's paintings, sculptures and sketches disappeared during Hitler's destruction of Europe; nevertheless, today her art is known throughout the world, and the Journal is ranked among literature's eminent, encompassing examples of belles-lettres-parallel to the diaries of Virginia Woolf, Samuel Pepys, and Anais Nin, and like the letters of Vincent van Gogh and the sonnets of Michelangelo, the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff stands as a literary witness of the creative life and is now accorded the status of world literature.

Excerpts from
THE JOURNAL OF MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF©
Translated by Katherine Kernberger

All distinctions disappear in the studio; I have neither name nor family; I'm not my mother's daughter; I am myself, an individual with art in front of me - art and nothing else. I feel so happy, so free, so proud! Finally, I am what I have wanted to be for so long...I will be what no woman artist has been before.

I have not omitted one of my actions or one of my thoughts from this journal. I am real and natural, like souls before God.

I pay attention to everything because I'm like a chemist, patient and tireless, who passes his nights in front of his test tubes in order not to miss the moment when the expected effect will occur. Every day it seems to me that it is coming, so I think and I wait.

Youth is a beautiful thing! No matter what kind of life you have, youth finds an hour, here or there, of pleasure.

I'm beginning to be what I want to be, sure of myself and calm. I avoid bickering and gossip. In short, I perfect myself little by little.

With my family I feel like a reasonable person locked in an asylum. It's as if my feet were caught in the sea by plants climbing and enlacing me; I can only shout, feeling that even that is useless.

Now that it's 2:00 in the morning and I'm locked in my room, dressed in a long white peignoir, barefoot, my hair loose like a virgin martyr, I can devote myself to bitter thoughts.

I wonder whose hands my journal will fall into? Until now it's of interest only to my family. I would like to become the kind of person whose journal will be interesting to everyone. Now it's for me, and I love to read it!

At dinner under a tent at the Provencaux, we heard some voices: it was the notorious cocotte Saxe quarrelling with the restaurant owner, striking him with her fan. He shouted, "Don't touch me or I'll hit you!" He said such things to her as I don't want to write, and ended bellowing, "I don't want prostitutes in my cafe. Leave, you filthy tart, or I'll pull off your skirt and spank your..." What a horror! We were acting as if we heard nothing, but I wanted to hear everything.
This woman pleases me very much. You can tell she's amusing because it shows in her face. Such women of fourth quality, kept hidden like a great mystery, interest me. I would like to become a fly and follow them in their excursions, or even get inside their skins to know what they feel. Poor Saxe has trouble everywhere; she was thrown out of the casino at Monte Carlo. Here in Vienna, she wears beautiful dresses.
But let's forget this. I lower myself by talking about these creatures, and I'm ashamed to have tarnished my journal with this stupid, improper story. However, I have to add that I am very sympathetic toward her, and I would very much like (incognito, of course) to become her friend. Oh, what horror! Horror!

Dressing is an art, and even though I go nowhere, I dress for myself, for the love of art.

How short life is; how sad to live so little! How much women are to be pitied! At least men are free. They have absolute freedom in ordinary life - the liberty to go and come, to go out, to dine at a cabaret or at home, to walk to the park or to a cafe. Having liberty is half the battle in developing talent, and it's three-quarters of ordinary happiness. But you will ask, "Superior woman that you are, why not take this freedom for yourself?" It's impossible, because a young pretty woman who emancipates herself this way blacklists herself; she becomes singular, talked-about, criticized, and censured. And as a consequence she is less free than when she observes those idiotic customs. So there's nothing to do but regret my sex and come back to my dreams of Italy and Spain. Giant trees, pure sky, streams, oleanders, roses, sun, shade, peace, calm, harmony, poetry, inspiration...

I'm frightened by the flight of time!

If we look closely, most things in this world are the results of imagination.

L'art! If I didn't have these four magical letters in the distance, I would be dead. But for art I need no one else; I depend on myself. And if I fail, I am nothing and can't live any more. Art! I see it as a great light very far away over there, and I forget everything else. I walk with my eyes fixed on this light. I'm a little old to be starting, especially for a woman. But I will try.

"Did you do that by yourself?" Julian asked.
"Yes, Monsieur," and I blushed, as if I were lying.
"Well, I am very pleased."
I'm still struck by the superiority of the others, but I'm already less afraid. Some of the women have spent three or four years in the atelier, at the Louvre, in serious study.

I would like horribly to pose in the gentlemen's studio - nude. People are ashamed to be nude because they are afraid they aren't perfect. Otherwise we would go out without clothes. The sense of "modesty" disappears before perfection, beauty being all - powerful, and it even prevents embarrassment and consequently suppresses any feeling of shame.

The street! On the way back from Tony's we passed through the avenues around the Arc de Triomphe at about 6:30. Summer - the concierges, children, messenger boys, women - all at their doors or sitting on the public benches or chatting in front of the wine shops. They would make such pictures! In this life, in this truth, there are wonderful things. The greatest masters are great only through their truth to life. I came home marveling at the street.

Upon leaving the studio, I took Mme de Daillens with me and we went to see Hubertine Auclert...We had rung 3 times with no response when the porter called us back. Mlle Auclert invited us to go up. On the door were written these words, "Rights of Women - head office."
The office was very poor and simple. She lighted a fire and sat down in front of the fireplace, de Daillens on her right and I on her left. I said that I could not help feeling very emotional in the presence of the woman who has so daringly asserted our rights...
I want to do a portrait of Hubertine for the Salon...She will be good for the painting...dark, very nice appearance...she gave us a program and a little pamphlet and we shook hands. We joined the organization, promising to come again and pay our twenty-five-centimes per month. We will go to the meetings.
"Next Wednesday at 8:00."
I told her that the main argument of the Reactionaries - that Women's Rights members were ugly, old, and grotesque - certainly did not apply to her.

Ah, gentlemen, you thought you'd find a rich, extravagant - let's say the word - foreigner. But I'm no Russian and no foreigner, I am ME, I am what a woman should be with my ambitions...the moment to satisfy them is now. Well, let's wait a little.

To die would be absurd. However, I feel that I'm going to die. I can't live; I'm not born to the normal pattern. I have too much of some things, but other things are missing. My character's not made to last. If I were a Goddess with the whole universe to serve me, I should find that I was ill served. It's impossible to be more capricious, more exacting, more impatient than I am. Sometimes, or rather, always I have a certain undercurrent of reason and calm, but I can't explain my meaning exactly. I tell you only that my life cannot last.


Excerpted from THE JOURNAL OF MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF, translated and edited by Katherine Kernberger. Copyright © 2012 by Katherine Kernberger. Marie Bashkirtseff's biographical summary adapted for the use of Art Renewal Center by Vincent Nicolosi. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from FONTHILL PRESS LLC, New York, NY

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Marie Bashkirtseff

Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

Added on 13 February, 2010

Marie Bashkirtseff, Paris

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Added on 17 July, 2013

Marie Bashkirtseff

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Added on 17 July, 2013

Marie Bashkirtseff painting the portrait of a young woman

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Added on 17 July, 2013

Maire and Coco

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Added on 17 July, 2013

Books and Related Products

In early fin de siecle Paris, Marie Bashkirtseff became a cause celebre in artistic and feminist circles, and one of the most talked-about women in Paris. She lived as if possessed by a presentiment of early death, imparting to the world—during her swift and vivid passage through time—a legacy of startling beauty, extraordinary art and, perhaps most everlastingly, her magnificent Journal.