Musée d'Orsay: Misia, Queen of Paris

Misia, Queen of Paris

ARCHIVE
2012

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Madame Verdurinska

Pierre BonnardMisia and Edwards on the deck of the yacht "Aimée"© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
After separating from her second husband, Alfred Edwards, Misia’s life changed when, in 1908, she met the Catalan painter José María Sert (1874-1945). He introduced her into the artistic circles of the avant-garde and to Serge de Diaghilev.
Deeply moved when she first saw Boris Godounov, Misia committed herself to help the impresario by providing financial support for his enterprise.
She thus became the godmother of the Ballets Russes, present at all the performances, but never interfering with the aesthetic decisions.

Félix VallottonMisia at her desk© Photographe Jean-Louis Chaix, ville de Saint-Tropez
In the luxurious setting of her drawing room on the Quai Voltaire, decorated by Bonnard, Misia brought together the new artistic elite: "[…] she brought out genius just as certain kings can forge victors, purely with the vibration of her being, […] more Mme Verdurin than the original, taking to or rejecting men and women at first glance" (Paul Morand).
Madame Verdurinska, as her friend Gabrielle Chanel nicknamed her, became an arbiter of taste and fashion, bringing together her friends just to set them against each other at a later date. The cream of Parisian society sought to be invited to her dinners and after-theatre suppers.

"Love, Castanets, and Tango"

Edouard VuillardMisia Sert and her niece, Mimi Godebska© Photo Roy Fox
It was Misias love life, as well as her social life, that created her legend. As a young girl, she turned the heads of the melancholic bachelors around her: Vuillard, Bonnard, Vallotton, and Romain Coolus.
Her divorce from Thadée Natanson, against a background of secret negotiations led by Alfred Edwards, was the inspiration for Mirbeaus play, Le Foyer.
In 1911, the accidental death of her rival for Edwards affections, the actress Geneviève Lantelme, was never explained. On the borders of the panels painted for her apartment on the Quai Voltaire, Bonnard had fun with references to the wrangling between the two women over Misias pearls.

Edouard VuillardMisia Natanson seen in profile in a carriage, Cannes© Archives Vuillard, Paris
Misia never recovered from being abandoned by Sert for the young Roussadana Mdivani. She tried to live an impossible life that included the three of them but this came to an end with the death of Roussy in 1938.
Almost blind by this time, and addicted to morphine, Misia undertook some most unlikely escapades to Venice where her gaunt figure and her elegance blended perfectly with the quaint charms of the city where her only true friend, Serge de Diaghilev had died in 1929.

After three marriages and three divorces, the "Queen of Paris", as she was nicknamed by the press, died a solitary figure.

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