This week, in addition to viewing the pioneering hip-hop film Wild Style, I watched Martin Provost’s sublime biopic Séraphine. In Provost’s movie the life of the self-taught painter Séraphine Louis is explored.
Séraphine Louis (1864–1942) was orphaned at an early age. She supported herself by working as a domestic for the middle-class families of her town. At night she would compose pictures using paint that she would make from her own unique formulas. In 1912 the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde was shown a still-life of apples by his neighbor which intrigued him. He was astonished to find out that the painter of the picture was his own housekeeper. Uhde was impressed with her work and encouraged Louis until the outbreak of World War I forced him to leave France.
By 1927 Uhde had returned to France and attended an exhibition of local artists in Senlis where he saw some of Louis’ work. He renewed their acquaintance and became her patron. He included her in an exhibit of Naive painters that he curated in Paris called Painters of the Sacred Heart. This brought Louis critical and financial success, however the Great Depression soon put an end to the market for her paintings. Ill prepared for this turn of events Louis fell into a psychotic state and was institutionalized for the remainder of her life.