(Santander, Spain, 1881–1932, Paris, France)
Oil on canvas
43 3/4 x 30 1/4 in. (111.1 x 76.8 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds from The Meadows Foundation, MM.08.02
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Maria Lahiri discuss this work (2:28 minutes)
María Blanchard (1881–1932)
Seated Woman (Femme assise), c. 1917
by Maria Lahiri Meadows Museum docent
The painting you are looking at is from the permanent collection here at [the] Meadows. It is an oil on canvas circa 1917. The name of the artist is María Blanchard. As you look at the painting, I’ll tell you a little about the artist.
María Blanchard was born in 1881 in the coastal city of Santander in the Cantabria region of northern Spain. She harbored artistic ambitions from an early age and moved to Madrid to study and pursue an artistic career. She then won a grant to Paris where she furthered her studies and also met artists who would be influential in her life. Notably the influences of the Spanish artist Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa and the Dutch artist Kees van Dongen helped her develop an artistic style that was a departure from her formal training in Madrid. She became part of a circle of artists who were drawn to avant-garde movements in Paris in the early twentieth century and she was one of few women artists in such circles. She started painting in the cubist style by 1916, influenced by the work of artists such as Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso.
Now that you have had a chance to look at the painting, you have probably noticed some important details. The painting is in an abstract style. There are geometric forms, boxes, and rectangles, straight lines, curved lines. There are patterns and solids. There are also colors: green, red, black, and beige, to name a few. Specifically, the painting is in the cubist style as can be seen from the attributes I just mentioned. Cubism developed in the early twentieth century. It was a highly influential art movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Essentially artists used cubes and other geometric shapes connecting them together in a way that could be viewed from different angles. Later the elements of collage and mixed media were also added.
The name of this artwork is femme assise or Seated Woman. This painting is a figurative portrayal of a woman seated on a chair and can be identified as such by the figure’s hair, the simple black curvy lines, the pattern of the flowers like the fabric of a dress. These simplified geometric shapes involving color and pattern are put together in a way that implies the feminine, hence the title Seated Woman. As you look more closely, ask yourself questions, for example, would you describe this painting as a portrait? What similarities does it have with other traditional portraits? What are some differences? As always, when you look at an artwork, do take the time to look more closely, noticing details, elements, nuances. You’ll be surprised at how much you see.
In this painting, approximately 4 feet high and 3 feet wide, Blanchard uses geometric forms in varying hues of cream, rose, green, tan, and gray to portray a seated woman’s head and torso. This pallet of colors, repeated throughout the painting, is a prominent element of the work.
The woman’s head is near the top, a little off-center to the viewer’s right. Her cream-colored face and neck are formed by a half-circle and rectangle; her only features are a vertical triangular nose and a horizontal triangular left eye, both in contrasting tan. A tiny cream-colored circle serves as the eye’s pupil. The woman’s hair, seen on the right side of her head, extends to her shoulder in a scalloped charcoal-colored triangle.
The top of her chair, which has a prominent slatted back, extends directly out from her neck and down behind her shoulder, thus combining her head and the chair top into one single abstract form. Her dress, which extends to the edge of the chair seat, is comprised of several modified and overlapping rectangles. These are in varying shades of green, rose, and cream; a collar and part of the cream-colored skirt of her dress are embellished with a soft, intricate floral pattern in rose (that simulates printed fabric). The woman’s dark gray right arm is folded across her body; her hand, a rose-colored mitten shape, holds a small pale gray book.
The bottom of the painting is defined by a charcoal-colored arc representing the edge of the chair seat. It starts in the viewer’s lower right of the painting and continues across the bottom to the center, where it changes into cream-colored shapes and diagonal charcoal and cream stripes. Although the geometric elements of this portrait are flat, they are arranged together to give depth and a three-dimensional effect. The painting surface is smooth; the brush strokes are not a prominent feature of the work.