Misia, Queen of Paris

ARCHIVE
2012

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Music above all

Pierre BonnardMisia at the piano© ADAGP, Paris 2012
Misia did not create anything, but, through the people she met throughout her life and her magnetic presence alongside artists of the time, she became a muse, a patron and an arbiter of taste for several decades.
Born into a family of musicians, she was introduced to the piano at a very young age and studied under Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). An excellent performer, she gave her first public concert in 1892 but refused to make the piano her career, playing instead for her own pleasure and for her friends.

Edouard VuillardMisia at the Piano© Jean Vong Photography Inc, New York
Several portraits show her sitting at her piano, surrounded by friends and family, in the drawing room of her apartment in the rue Saint-Florentin. Closely framed or distorted to include a broad view of the décor of the setting, these portraits show the most intimate side of Misia, for whom music was both a refuge and something to be shared.
Her musical tastes were extensive. She was an enthusiastic performer of Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin, was passionate about Debussy, at the time of her friendship with Mallarmé, and about Ravel who, in 1906, dedicated Le Cygne (The Swann) to her, based on Jules Renard's Les Histoires naturelles and the symphonic poem La Valse (The Waltz) in 1920. With the arrival of the twentieth century, Misia’s musical tastes turned towards a new aesthetic embodied by Satie, Stravinski, Auric and Poulenc.

Misia at the time of La Revue blanche

Alfred NatansonLunch at Le Relais in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne© Cliché musée d'Orsay / Patrice Schmidt
In 1889, the sons of Adam Natanson – Alexandre, Thadée and Alfred – founded in Brussels a cultural and artistic publication called La Revue blanche (1889-1903), after its white cover. A crucible of progressive ideas, it attracted the best writers and most innovative artists of the period. It covered all issues– political, artistic and social – providing a platform for the major debates that preoccupied society at this moment of transition from the 19th to the 20th century.

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecPoster for La Revue Blanche© Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Misia, who became Madame Thadée Natanson in 1893, did not participate directly in this intellectual ferment, but welcomed her husband’s closest contributors with open arms: Coolus, Vuillard, Bonnard, Vallotton and Toulouse-Lautrec, who were all in love with her. At that time she was the embodiment of the elegant Parisian reader of La Revue blanche.

The Natansons' country houses, La Grangettein Valvins and Le Relais in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne , served as annexes to the journal’s offices. Ideas and idylls were born and completed here, as we can see in many photographs and paintings in which Misia is always present.

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