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The Barnes Foundation Presents “Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris”

First major US exhibition of French artist Marie Laurencin’s work in over 30 years

October 22, 2023–January 21, 2024

Press Preview: Tuesday, October 17, 9:30 am

Philadelphia, PA, July 11, 2023—In fall 2023, the Barnes Foundation will present Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris, the first major US exhibition dedicated to French artist Marie Laurencin in over 30 years. Co-curated by Simonetta Fraquelli, consultant curator for the Barnes; and Cindy Kang, curator at the Barnes, this exhibition explores Laurencin’s career, from her self-portraits to her collaborative decorative projects; from her early cubist paintings to her signature works—feminine and discreetly queer—that defined 1920s Paris.

Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal and Denise Littlefield Sobel. Additional support is provided by LAGOS. Funding for the exhibition comes from The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation and Arthur M. Kaplan and R. Duane Perry. This exhibition is on view in the Roberts Gallery from October 22, 2023, through January 21, 2024.

Beginning in the early 20th century, French artist Marie Laurencin (1883–1956) created a unique pictorial world that placed women at the center of modern art. Working in Paris, in an environment dominated by male artists, Laurencin had a highly original painting style that defied categorization. She moved seamlessly between the male-dominated cubist avant-garde, lesbian literary and artistic circles, and the realms of fashion, ballet, and decorative arts.

Laurencin became a fixture of the contemporary art scene in prewar Paris and had a passionate and tumultuous relationship with the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire. Pablo Picasso introduced them in 1907, and she immediately became part of the cubist inner circle. Their breakup in 1913, combined with the death of her mother, likely prompted a hasty marriage to the German baron and artist Otto von Wätjen in 1914. The couple fled to Spain during World War I and circulated among other self-exiled artists, including Francis Picabia. In 1921, the couple divorced and Laurencin returned definitively to Paris, having developed her signature style of diaphanous female figures in a blue-rose-gray palette.

Laurencin’s feminine yet sexually fluid aesthetic defined 1920s Paris. She was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev to design the ballet Les Biches and by society figures like Coco Chanel and Helena Rubinstein to paint their portraits. Laurencin’s romantic relationships with women, particularly with the married fashion designer Nicole Groult, inspired intimate paintings that visualized the modern Sapphism of contemporary lesbian writers like Natalie Clifford Barney. One of Laurencin’s final projects was to illustrate the Poems of Sappho in 1950.

“We are proud to present the first US exhibition in over three decades dedicated to Marie Laurencin’s work,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes. “Shining new light on a remarkable artist deserving of a major reexamination, this exhibition is the Barnes’s fourth in an ongoing series exploring the achievements of significant but underrecognized women working in the European modernist vanguard of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Suzanne Valadon, Marie Cuttoli, and Berthe Morisot.”

This exhibition holds a special significance at the Barnes; in 1923, Dr. Albert Barnes named Laurencin one of “the best French women painters” after having acquired several of her works, including Still Life with Bowl and Fruit (1907) on view in Room 10; Woman with Muff (1914) on view in Room 16; and Head (before 1921), on view in Room 11.

“Through this exhibition, we aim to reassess Marie Laurencin’s career, emphasizing the female relationships and networks—the Sapphic Paris—that Laurencin cultivated, which was just as significant to her assertion of modernity as her association with the male cubist avant-garde,” say co-curators Fraquelli and Kang. “We examine how Laurencin’s visualization of a ‘sapphic modernity’ subtly but radically challenges existing narratives of modern European art. Presenting new scholarship on her life and influence, this exhibition and catalogue tell Laurencin’s story through her art and bring new attention to her significant body of work.”

Featuring over 50 works by Laurencin from public and private collections around the world, Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris showcases paintings, works on paper, illustrated books, decorative objects, and ballet costumes, as well as works by Laurencin’s contemporaries and collaborators such as Max Ernst, André Mare, Jean Metzinger, and Francis Picabia. Arranged thematically and in roughly chronological order, the exhibition examines Laurencin’s interest in self-portraiture; her cubist milieu in prewar Paris; her difficult though productive period of exile in Spain; her designs for interiors and ballets; her fashionable portraits of women; and her inimitable vision of sapphic modernism.

Select exhibition highlights include:

  • The Elegant Ball, Dance in the Country (Le bal élégant, La danse à la campagne) (1913), one of Laurencin’s major cubist pictures, exhibited at the 1913 Salon des Indépendants in Paris (Musée Marie Laurencin, Tokyo)

  • The Woman-Horse (La femme-cheval) (1918), an enigmatic self-portrait of a woman painter in exile that shows Laurencin developing her signature style (Musée Marie Laurencin, Tokyo)

  • Women with a Dove (Femmes à la colombe) (1919), an intimate double portrait of Laurencin and her lover Nicole Groult (Centre Pompidou, Paris)

  • Women in the Forest (Femmes dans la forêt) (1920), which reinterprets 18th-century French pictures of romantic intrigue as a sapphic world devoid of men (private collection)

  • Spanish Dancers (Danseuses espagnoles) (1920), one of Laurencin’s largest works that depicts her unique aesthetic world intertwining women and animals (Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

  • Portrait of Miss Chanel (Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel) (1923), a significant portrait of the famed fashion designer Coco Chanel when she was working with the Ballets Russes concurrently with Laurencin (Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

Education Initiatives

Online Class: Paris in the 1920s: Art, Design, Fashion, and Literature
Instructor: Caterina Y. Pierre
Wednesdays, October 4–25, 2023; 6–8 pm ET
$220; members $198 (4 classes)
Learn about the artists, writers, and designers who helped define the modern era.

Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris (on-site)
Instructor: Cindy Kang
Tuesdays, November 7–December 5, 2023; 1–3 pm ET
$220; members $198 (4 classes; no class November 21)
Dive deeper into our fall exhibition with Barnes curator Cindy Kang.

Online Class: Art and the First “Homosexuals”
Instructor: Jonathan D. Katz
Wednesdays, November 8–December 6, 2023; 6–8 pm ET
$220; members $198 (4 classes; no class November 22)
This course surveys artistic representations of the emerging "homosexual" identity, from the early 1900s through the first decades of the 20th century.

Simonetta Fraquelli
, an independent curator specializing in early 20th-century European art, is consultant curator for the Barnes Foundation. Fraquelli began her career at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where she worked for over 20 years on a range of exhibitions. Since 2006, she has collaborated with several leading European and American museums. In 2017, she co-curated one of the largest exhibitions of Modigliani’s work, Modigliani at Tate, London (with Nancy Ireson); at the Barnes, she co-curated Soutine / de Kooning: Conversations in Paint (2021) and Modigliani Up Close (2022). Fraquelli has published on many additional artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Gino Severini. She holds advanced degrees from the Courtauld Institute, London.

Cindy Kang is curator at the Barnes Foundation. Her research and publications have focused on the relationship between painting and decorative arts in late 19th- and early 20th-century France. She curated Marie Cuttoli: The Modern Thread from Miró to Man Ray (2020) at the Barnes and served as managing curator for the Barnes presentations of Berthe Morisot: Woman Impressionist (2018–19) and Renoir: Father and Son/Painting and Cinema (2018). Kang commissioned the 2022 Barnes exhibition Water, Wind, Breath: Southwest Native Art in Community and co-led the institution’s land acknowledgment process. She previously held curatorial and research positions at the Bard Graduate Center, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Frick Collection, and was a scholar-in-residence at the Getty Research Institute. She received her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

The 208-page illustrated exhibition catalogue Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris is published by the Barnes Foundation in association with Yale University Press. Edited by exhibition co-curators Simonetta Fraquelli and Cindy Kang, the book includes essays from the curators, Christine Poggi, Rachel Silveri, and Jelena Kristic, along with contributions from Oriane Poret and Corrinne Chong. The authors consider Laurencin’s relationship to cubism; the pivotal period of her exile in Spain; the role of decorative projects in her career; her graphic work and illustrated books; and her interpretation of sapphic modernity. The exhibition and book illuminate how Laurencin’s work subtly but radically challenges existing histories of modern European art.

Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris is organized by the Barnes and curated by Simonetta Fraquelli, consultant curator, and Cindy Kang, curator at the Barnes.

Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal and Denise Littlefield Sobel.

Additional support is provided by LAGOS.

Funding for the exhibition comes from The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation Arthur M. Kaplan and R. Duane Perry.

Ongoing support for exhibitions comes from the Christine and Michael Angelakis Exhibition Fund, the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Lois and Julian Brodsky Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Christine and George Henisee Exhibition Fund, Aileen and Brian Roberts, and the Tom and Margaret Lehr Whitford Exhibition Fund.

The exhibition publication is made possible with generous support from the Lois and Julian Brodsky Publications Fund.

In addition, funding for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned canvases by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside African, Asian, ancient, medieval, and Native American art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” A visionary collector and pioneering educator, Dr. Barnes was also a fierce advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and the economically marginalized. Committed to racial equality and social justice, he established a scholarship program to support young Black artists, writers, and musicians who wanted to further their education. Dr. Barnes was deeply interested in African American culture and became actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance, during which he collaborated with philosopher Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson, the scholar and activist, to promote awareness of the artistic value of African art.

Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes Foundation has expanded its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways; investing in original scholarship relating to its collection; and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its programs.

The Barnes is situated in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people. Read our Land Acknowledgment.

Hours and ticket prices are listed on our website.


Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
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