Misia Sert

Pierre-Auguste Renoir • Painting, 1904, 92×73 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Portrait
Style of art: Impressionism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1904
Size: 92×73 cm
Artwork in selections: 14 selections

Description of the artwork «Misia Sert»

Even in the modern world, Misia Godebska would hardly find the right professional role. She did not create a single work of art, she created a masterpiece of her own life and inspired the most prominent artists and writers of her time. Misia was friends with Toulouse-Lautrec, Debussy, Mallarme, Renoir, Stravinsky, Picasso. The premiere of Petrushka would not have taken place without her, as it was she who helped Diaghilev with money when the production was threatened. When Misia was the wife of Thadée Natanson, an art connoisseur and businessman who founded the arts and literary magazine La Revue Blanche, she was often the editorial consultant on themes and personalities. She spoke all European languages and was the closest friend of Coco Chanel; one of the fragrances of the fashion house, Misia, is named after her.

Misia Godebska was married three times and, to the great disappointment of many passionate admirers, never had affairs outside. At the time when Renoir was painting her portrait, she was Misia Edwards.

Whereas Alfred Edwards, Misia’s husband, had a precisely determined professional role even then: a multimillionaire manufactor. He owned a dozen enterprises and was one of the first to start mining bauxite for the manufacture of a new metal with a great future, aluminium. “To get such a woman and marry her, he came up with the following method: every evening, he invited all her friends to dinner. In order not to be alone, she was forced to join the company. Edwards sat her at his her right hand, and every time she found a case with a high price diamond under the napkin,” Renoir recalled and added that no woman would have resisted this.
For Auguste Renoir, who was already confined to wheelchair, a special elevator was built in the house of Misia and Alfred so that the artist could go up to the hostess’s room for posing sessions. When the work was completed, Misia gave Auguste an empty receipt and asked him to evaluate the painting himself. In the opinion of Madame Edwards (she would receive the surname Sert from her next husband), Renoir turned out to be too modest in assessing his work.

For the artist, this was the time when he spoke his pictorial language, when he became famous and finally could not care about money. Art critics call this late period “red”, as Renoir was not afraid of bright, passionate colours and skilfully created complex coloristic solutions. His palette became extremely laconic. “Rich result with poor means”, the artist set himself a puzzling task and coped with it brilliantly. It is hard to believe that this year Auguste was no longer able to juggle and replaced this exercise for his sick hands, disfigured with rheumatism, with a simpler one — tossing a piece of wood. Soon he would not be able to hold it in his hands either.

Written by Anna Sidelnikova