Bashkyrtseva Maria

Bashkyrtseva Maria

Maria Bashkyrtseva (Marie Bashkirtseff) (1858 - 1884) is an artist and a writer, the first Ukrainian with paintings to be acquired by the Louvre.

She was born and spent her childhood in Havrontsi, Poltava region, Ukraine. When she was 12, her family moved to France: first to Nice and then to Paris where Marie spent the rest of her short life, cut short at 25 by tuberculosis.  

Overall, Maria Bashkyrtseva produced over 150 paintings, 200 drawings, sketches and several sculptures. Her name can be found on Immortality, a sculpture in a Luxembourg museum dedicated to nine distinguished French artists who died young. She adored social events while simultaneously providing funding for the first feminist newspapers in Paris and writing for them. She was viewed as something of a seductress in her community, while in fact she never engaged in a single romantic affair. Аlthough she emerged as an artist among academic artists, she never failed to criticize them and was willing to attempt something radically different. She wrote: “My art does not yet exist.”   

Maria Bashkyrtseva was perhaps most well known as the author of The Diary – an account she had kept from the age of 12. It was published in 1887 and made the artist famous. A unique document from the period, it provides an ambitious “portrait of an artist as a young woman” and became an immediate bestseller being translated into a spate of European languages. Her tomb in Passy cemetery in Paris has become a place of pilgrimage and, according to reports, a gathering spot for “Madam Bashkirtseff’s Salon” run by Marie’s mother. Bashkirtseff’s mother spared no effort or expense in her attempt to immortalize her daughter. She personally cut anything that might harm the family reputation from The Diary. Comments critical of prominent public personae, harsh evaluations of family squabbles, and her own erotic dreams at “much too young age” have all been excised.   

In the 1980s, Colette Cosnier, a French researcher, discovered the existence of a second manuscript containing Bashkirtseff diary—an original far more fascinating than that which has been published. Its thousands of pages portray a totally different woman – larger, deeper and more avant-garde than the public myth that thus far offered to the public. The alternate manuscript displays an artist and writer who vividly reflected the spirit of her time and even ran somewhat ahead of it.

1Big move Switzerland1871

Switzerland, Geneva

The noble (and after the celebrated marriage of an Aunt, Nadine Babanin, also wealthy) family of Maria Bashkyrtseva’s mother (the Babanin family) would leave the Russian Empire for destinations abroad. There was practically no hope that the relationship of Marie’s parents was going to be restored. Within her mother’s family, the father–Kostyantyn Bashkirtseff, was sooner left forgotten. A flaneur and a debaucher, he squandered the money of his father, a prominent general, to organize outrageous parties in the family mansion in Havrontsi, Poltava region. The Babanin family left their household in the care of a distant relative and left Havrontsi, taking their elderly grandfather, Stepan Babanin, along with them. It was this grandfather, a contemporary of Lermontoff and a fan of Byron, who put wild dreams into little Marie’s head. She generously idealizes the man in her diary.   

Living in Geneva at the Hotel de la Couronne, twelve-year-old Maria Bashkyrtseva takes her first drawing lessons. “I drew everything I could see from the window — part of Geneva and the lake — as carefully as possible,” she writes in her diary.

2A star was born France1871 - 1877

63 Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

For seven years (1871-1877), Bashkirtseff family lived in Nice. It is here that young Marie is captivated by social life and an aspiration for fame. Convinced of her own uniqueness, Marie gradually starts to see herself as an extraordinary singer. She experiences her first (naturally, unrequited) love for Duke Hamilton. She puts all her sincere youthful ambition into “building herself”: she studies diligently, employs lyceum teachers as her private tutors, compiles her own study programme and also practices music and singing. Bashkirtseff sees herself as a stage celebrity whose voice is going to captivate thousands of listeners and, naturally, help her marry a worthy man, one possessing the appropriate status and mansion.  

After Marie’s death, Nice will have a street named after her, and her paintings will stay in the permanent exhibit of The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice located in the villa of princess Yelyzaveta Kochubey, a Ukrainian who hails from the same region as Marie. 

3Palazzo Pitti Italy1874

Palazzo Pitti, Piazza de' Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze, FI, Italy

In 1874, Maria Bashkyrtseva and her aunt went to Florence to attend a celebration of Michelangelo’s 400th anniversary. Marie is deeply impressed by the beauty of Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Borgese while also caustically a criticising King Victor Emmanuel for, in her perception, the modesty of the celebration offered to Michelangelo. It is here where we first encounter one of her well-known diary phrases: “Ah, I wish I were a queen!”

4Rome and Dykanka's Villas Vatican 1876

Apostolic Palace, 00120 Vatican City

“I have never seen anything that could be compared with the stairs and rooms of the Vatican… I see it all as impeccable…” – on January 22, 1876, in the Vatican, Maria Bashkyrtseva and her aunt are received by Pope Pius IX. Marie meets one of the future signature figures encountered in her diary—a cardinal’s nephew, Pietro Antonelli. Later, now disappointed in her suitor, Marie will go to Naples and Pompeii – to study distinguished monuments, reflect on the grandeur of architecture and the immortality of art all while suffering a somewhat wounded pride as her non-conformance to the Catholic faith and her comparatively ignoble origins render impossible marriage to Antonelli. So, she decides to fully concentrate on self-development and attaining fame, no matter what.

After some time, visiting her father in the Poltava region, she went to the Kochubey palace in Dykanka. She notes in her same diary that “the park and buildings of Dykanka are so beautiful they can compete with villas of Borgese and Doria in Roma. No genuine and irreplaceable ruins there, but Dykanka is probably even richer, it is almost a town… Too bad many people don’t even know about the existence of this place.” (October 1, 1876). The palace in Dykanka (Poltava region) had been built at the close of the 18th century by Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi, but was destroyed following the October Revolution of 1917.  

5Julian Academy France1877

51 Rue Vivienne, Paris, France

Марія Башкирцева, В майстерні Жуліана. 1881. Полотно, олія, 165 х 185. Дніпровський художній музей

At the end of September 1877, Maria Bashkyrtseva went to study at the Julian Academy, one of the few art schools where women were allowed to attend. She was treated like a girl with a strange hobby but from a wealthy family; let her study and pay, why not? Her studio colleagues are much poorer than she, and this only inflames their envy and hostility toward Marie. She writes, “with my talent, in two years I will have made up for lost time.”  

She studied under Rodolphe Julian, an academic artist and student of Cabanel who did not achieve prominence painter but built a successful teaching career. Another teacher at the private school who significantly influenced the development of Maria Bashkyrtseva was Tony Robert-Fleury, particularly his partiality to realist tendencies just being established in French painting. At the time in Paris, there were thousands of artists, and Bashkirtseff jokes that the biggest exports of France are perfumes and paintings.  

She paints from 8 AM until lunch, and then from 1 till 5 PM; she spends one-and-a-half hours a day travelling to the studio and is constantly complaining she wastes too much time on foolish matters. In October, Julian acknowledges that she is a hard worker and if this artistic stubborn streak holds Marie will soon be admitted to the Salon.  

6Paris Salons France1881

3 Avenue du Général-Eisenhower, 75008 Paris, France

In 1881, 1883 and 1884 Paris Salonswere held here with Bashkirtseff participating. For her debut, the young artist chose a courageous theme – the portrayal of a young woman bent over with interest, reading the highly popular, recently published title by Dumas, “The Question of Divorce”. She knew the painting would be talked about even if she would not win an award and yet she also receives a medal.

The entire episode was rather audacious for that time, even more so for a woman of her status and age. Marie’s family was already openly concerned about her being single but Bashkirtseff herself seemed to finally have found passion and fulfilment in the lifelong emotional rollercoaster that is the arts.

For a subsequent Salon, she would offer her teacher Julian a sketch which impressed him with its courageous depiction and yet which he determined would not be realized as a painting. Marie wanted to show a model waiting for an artist. A woman dressed in her underskirt and corset sits on a chair with its back turned to the viewer. She embraces the chair with her legs, smokes a cigarette and looks nowhere in particular. The floor is littered with rags and other creative chaos. You may imagined a scene from Toulouse-Lautrec here. This will come about later, but for now, Bashkirtseff does not complete the painting. Her teacher has told us that the image will cause a scandal. Particularly, if the judges and public find out that the painter is a young woman! 

In the course of her short life, Marie would be awarded medals and an honorary diploma from the Salon. However, her enthusiasm for the achievement dampened with every new award. She was ever enticed by new challenges of fame and artistic mastery and was consumed with what lay ahead.  

In 1885, immediately following the death of Maria Bashkyrtseva, an association of female artists and sculptors organized an exhibition of her work in the Palais d’Industrie: 100 oil paintings, six pastels, 124 drawings, and five sculptures. France buys her Meeting presented at the latest Salon in 1884, for a Luxembourg museum. The exhibition earns numerous critical reviews which are largely positive (never speak ill of the dead), but are marked by a question:  with her artistic career was just starting to bloom how was it that such an  interesting figure stayed hidden so long? It was as if everyone saw again, from a different angle, this woman who strove for fame, putting so much talent and effort into achieving it yet–sadly receiving her due recognition only after death.    

7Prado Museum Italy1881

Prado Museum Broadcasting, SAU, Calle de Ruiz de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain

Музей Прадо, 19 століття, фото Джей Лорен Сіа, суспільне надбання, Wikimedia Commons
Марія Башкирцева, Гранада. Олія по дереву, 32,5 х 41 см. Музей образотворчих мистецтв Сурікова, Красноярськ, Росія

In October 1881, Maria Bashkyrtseva and her aunt took a trip to Spain. She is interested in distinguished art collections. Marie spends entire days at the Prado museum and describes her impressions in great detail in her diary. She also does what other passionate neophytes have done before her, copying the masters. In her case, particularly Velasquez, who had captured her heart.  

It was here that a stranger walked up to this girl working at an easel and asked whether she was Mademoiselle Bashkirtseff. The man is Mr. Soldatyonkov, a well-known Russian publisher and collector of the time. He wants to buy her paintings. Impulsively she says no and then scolds herself for her answer in her diary--a faux pas when one is looking to build one’s reputation.

By this time she had been suffering from tuberculosis for quite a while, requiring that she pay greater attention to her health. The family frequently travels to resorts for her convalescence. But everywhere they go she takes an interest in the local culture, architecture, textures and ambience. Her mother and aunt irritate her on these trips; their interests lie only in shopping in fashionable stores.  

The beauty of Spain sweeps Marie off her feet. She draws a lot, is amazed by the range of people she meets, the colours of nature and the cities, even writing she could stay in Grenada for good. Toledo, Madrid, Cordoba… In Seville, she visits a cigar factory where she is mesmerized by the women at work. In Grenada she talks to prison management and sketches convicts. Her drawings and paintings from that period convey Bashkirtseff’s delight: she wants to document everything new seen through admiring eyes.  

8Studio in Paris France1883

30 Rue Ampère, Paris, France

Майстерня Марії Башкирцевої

In Paris, during her studies in Julian Academy, Maria Bashkyrtseva fully constructs her life around her creative practice. Her health continues to deteriorate and she describes her visits to the doctors and their diagnoses in The Diary with both dramatism and disappointment. Another trip to a health resort takes away invaluable time from the workshop. All this time, Bashkirtseff scolds herself for starting her artistic work too late and tries to catch up with, even overtake, time—something which her doctors advise her she has less and less of.

9Exhibition of female artists France1884

49 Rue Vivienne, Paris, France

Марія Башкирцева, Усмішка дівчини, 1983, полотно, олія, 55 х 46. Російський державний музей, Санкт-Петербург

In March 1884, at the exhibition of Paris association of female artists, Maria Bashkyrtseva presented the following publicly: Autumn, Dina’s portrait, Armandina, Jacque’s portrait and Laughter, a triptych. It is hard not to notice her special devotion to female portraits. A woman as a personality, as a human – strange though it may sound now! – was of huge interest to Maria Bashkyrtseva in her reflections, and she makes herself an object of this philosophical research. In the end, her diary became the result of this process; in its preamble, she writes, “It is always fascinating to encounter the life of a woman documented from day to day, without showing off, as if nobody in the world should read it but at the same time with passionate desire to be read.”

10Cimetière de Passy France1884

2 Rue du Commandant Schloesing, Paris, France

On 31 October 1884 Maria Bashkyrtseva died from tuberculosis. At home, her friends kept vigil with her. The newspapers ran obituaries that mentioned her annual income, her broken marriage plans, and hints of dirty dealings at the most recent Salon where The Meeting had garnered positive reviews but did not receive a medal. In the crypt, her mother organized something like a salon – her unfinished work Holy Wives is put on display, and a few personal household items and interior objects are placed with her.  

In the catalogue from her posthumous exhibition, François Coppée, who had met Maria Bashkyrtseva several months before her death wrote, “I saw her only once, for an hour – and I shall never forget her.” This phrase is one of many well-known descriptions of the artist by her contemporaries that echo the words of Guy de Maupassant etched on her gravestone: “This was the only rose in my life whose path I would have paved with roses if I had known it would be so brilliant and so brief!”