Artists who painted Misia Sert

 Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Misia in Lautrec’s atelier, 1897

 Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

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Henri Toulouse-Lautrec worked very closely with La Revue Blanche. He designed material promoting  the magazine and made Misia the cover girl who personified La Revue Blanche. The posters of her by Lautrec, advertising the magazine, immortalised her as la femme nouvelle. Toulouse-Lautrec was influenced by figuraive impressionist painters, especially Monet and Degas, as well as by  Japaneese art. When the Moulin Rouge  cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters for the venue. His immersion in the colourful nightlife of Montmartre allowed him to produce the most exciting and provocative work cronicling the decadent life of demi-monde. While working in London, he met and befriended Oscar Wilde .  When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec, along with La Revue Blanche, became a very vocal supporter of his and his portrait of Oscar Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.  Lautrec was one of Misia’s Vernisseurs – term she used for artists who painted her.  Lautrec would often join Misia and Thadée together with Vuillard, Bonnard and Bernard in one of their favourite nightspots, where he would point out the pimps and the whores and shock Misia with lurid details of their lovemaking.  Misia and Henri enjoyed fun and games in  Natansons’ country house in Valvins. They were infatuated with each other and loved each other’s company. Henri’s physical appearance didn’t bother her, while everyone saw a gnome, she saw Toulouse-Lautrec, the funniest person and a very talented artist. Lautrec  always insisted on cooking for all Misia’s guests in Valvins.  He  published a cookbook of extravagant  dishes, flavoured with wine or cognac and large doses with Absinthe.  His hedonistic lifestyle in Paris took its toll on poor Henri who after collapsing from overdose was committed to a sanatorium by his parents. Misia and Thadée often visited him before he died at the age of 36. He was greatly missed by everybody. 

 Pierre Bonnard

Misia with Thadee, Bonnard, Vuillard, Cipa and friends – 1887


 Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

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French painter, printmaker and a founding member of the avant garde group of Les Nabis.  His paintings are often characterized by a dreamlike quality. In 1891, he met Toulouse-Lautrec and began showing his work at the annual exhibition of the  Société des Artistes Indépendants . In the same year Bonnard  began an association with  La Revue Blanche, for which he designed illustrations. Before he married his lifelong partner Marthe, he was a close companion and an intimate friend of Misia and Thadée who were  his valuable patrons. He painted Misia while they remained friends throughout their lives. Bonnard has been described as “the most thoroughly idiosyncratic of all the great twentieth-century painters”. He is recognised for his voluptuous colour, complex imagery, sunlit interiors and gardens populated with friends, family and their pets.  

 Edouard Vuillard
Misia and Edouard in the beetroot fields – 1898


 Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940)

   Vuillard’s paintings of Misia

Vuillard belonged to Les Nabis, the group of painters inspired by Gauguin’s symbolist style.  The new way of painting set them against the impressionists. They used flat areas of strong colour to express personal emotions and spiritual truth. Moving towards abstraction, they made an important contribution to the development of modern art,  especially expressionism and cubism. Vuillard’s embedding of his figures into a two-dimensional, decorative background also served as a significant precedent for the work of Henri Matisse. 

Vuillard contributed his work to La Revue Blanche and became friends with Thadée Natanson and Misia.  Thanks to Misia’s hospitality, the Natansons’ Paris apartment became the contributors’ usual meeting place – a second editorial office or An Annex as Misia called it. At the time, Misia’s genius for decoration and her fashion style have entralled Vuillard and the others, who paited her in her bright interiors.

Misia had become Queen of the Nabis — but for Vuillard in particular this period was the most important milestone in ‘conquest of the sensual’.  Vuillard fell madly in love with Thadée’s wife; he would not be the first and the last. When Misia and Thadée acquired a country house not far from Paris, Vuillard came to stay, painting her intensively most of the time.  His Misia’s Neck, is considered one of the most erotic paintings in the world. Vuillard brought his Kodak camera as well, and took snapshots of Misia and friends, which he used later to stage his paintings. Vuillard’s love for Misia would remain unrequited, unspoken even, for many years to come.



Misia and Pierre Bonnard with Renoir – 1898



 Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

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Auguste Renoir was a well known impressionist painter, noted for his vibrant light, saturated colour and curvaceous female bodies. He painted his probably best known impressionist work – Dance at le Moulin de la Galette in 1876, when Misia was only four years old. He was infatuated with Misia and painted her portrait seven times. His perennial cause of complaint was that she refused to pose for him naked. He implored Misia over and over to open her dress lower, “Lower, lower,” he begged her. “Why in heaven’s name, don’t you let me see your breasts? It is truly a sin” After his death, Misia often reproached herself, as she wrote in her memoirs, “for not having allowed him to see all he wanted.” Because Renoir was an artist, she said, “whose exceptional gift for seeing suffered intensely from being deprived of the sight of something which he knew to be beautiful.” Renoir was one of the few old friends who became closer to Misia after she divorced his friend Thadee Natanson. But what was infinitely more important to Renoir was Misia’s beautiful eyes, her fresh lips, full breasts and curvaceous body; attributes that made her an ideal model for the great man. He was a highly moral and fair-minded man and his loyalty to her was the most convincing testament to her character.  When he had completed one of the portraits Misia sent him a blank cheque, asking him to fill in the figures himself. Renoir wrote on it a sum that Misia found  ridiculously low.  Much to his consternation, his own paintings were beginning to rise greatly in value.

 In 1910 Misia invited old by then Renoir to a premiere of Firebird in 1910.  The celebrated artist who was helped into Misia’s lodge wore his work tunic and a cap, Misia next to him adorned with jewels  were drawn by Jacques-Émile Blanche. Renoir  was completely hypnotised by the vibrant colours, dramatic music but above all, by the dancers Tamara Karsawina and Vaslav Nijinski.


Xavier Roussel, Edouard Vuillard, Romain Coolus, Felix Vallotton – 1898
Vallotton – Symphony, 1897


 Felix Vallotton (1865-1925)

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Felix Vallotton, or Mon cher Vallo , as Misia  called him, was known for both his black and white prints and paintings defined by their simplicity in colour and composition, almost Japanese, then very much in vogue. Fascinated by Misia’s exuberant personality, Vallotton painted a few portraits of her. She particularly adored Misia à sa coiffeuse, (Misia in her dressing room), painted in the summer 1898.  Here Vallotton captures her voluptuous, curvy figure, dressed in pink, standing in front of a dressing table, lost in thought and looking away from the mirror.  Paintings of Misia are some of the finest in Vallotton’s carrier. Like his friend Vuillard, Vallotton became besotted with Madame Natanson. He was seeing her marriage to Thadée as a stumbling block that could be wished away, painted away, cut away even. This is perhaps clear from a series of 10 woodcuts he made in 1898. These Intimites, as he called them, were printed in black and white and published in la Revue that same year to great acclaim. Like in a theatre play, Intimites depict the interaction of the three protagonists, a corrupted, cold woman triumphing over a desperate and weak man, while the lover gratifies and seduces his prey.  Just as Vallotton was preparing these woodcuts he met Gabrielle, his future wife, who immediately became so jealous of Misia, that Vallotton had to cut the woman’s head out of his original woodcuts. He married Gabrielle a year later. The woodcuts are considered some of Vallotton’s most innovative and impressive work.

Some of the series of Intimites – 1897

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Jean Cocteau

 Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

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Misia met Jean Cocteau when he was a young, aspiring poet. He arranged an introduction to Misia, through their mutual friend, the writer Maurice Rostand. He knew well that she was the golden thread to Diaghilev and his consort, the power behind his throne, so to speak. She liked young Jean and thought “he was irresistible at twenty”. She also realised he wasn’t just a pretty face: “Jean, whose life is one miraculous chain of success, soon found out how to set about it.” When he met Diaghilev, Cocteau knew that he was onto a good thing and decided to stick around the Ballets Russes, the group of avant-garde artists and their rich supporters. He never missed a performance, sitting in Misia’s box behind Diaghilev, attended all rehearsals, tagged along to all the first-night suppers at Larue’s. Jeanchik (his nick name) was very witty, amusing, and he had become a sort of a “mascot” of the company. He had recently published his first volume of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp and insisted he was primarily a poet. Diaghilev asked Cocteau to amaze him, Cocteau tried, but for Diaghilev he had to do more than dance on the tables at Larue’s restaurant. He showed talent in drawing while sketching various events and very soon started designing posters advertising the premieres. He was even asked to write a libretto for Le Dieu Bleu.

Cocteau humorously presented Misia with a Japanese fan as a companion to the fan given to her by Stéphane Mallarmé years before. Mallarmé had praised Misia’s stormy piano playing. The inscription on Cocteau’s fan said:

“I entrust myself to the airy void of your flight,

Oh Japanese paper flower, which fades at the finger’s touch

And blooms again,

Recalling your twin on which the immortal Stéphane

Predicted on gold “the joys of Sophie”.

Poem-éventail (fan shaped poem) by Jean Cocteau for Misia

When the 1st World War started Misia collected a number of vehicles from Parisian couturiers. They were converted into ambulances and driven to the front to help the injured. Jean Cocteau, who wore a male nurse’s uniform designed by top designer Paul Poiret, was part of Misia’s team. After some weeks they were taken over by Red Cross. In 1923, Jean Cocteau wrote a novel Thomas l’Imposteur inspired by this episode in his life. He based the character of Princess de Bormes on Misia. After the war Jean Cocteau colaborated with Pablo Picasso and Eric Sate on the ballet Parade for Ballets Russes. It was premiered to great acclaim in 1917. Cocteau was a very prolific artist – a film maker, poet, writer and painter. An important exponent of avant-garde, Cocteau influenced the work of others and was credited for building a bridge between the avant-garde of the left bank and the establishment of the right in Paris. In 1955 Cocteau was made a member of the  Académie française  and became a commander of the Legion of Honour. The Royal Academy of Belgium.


 Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

 work in progress…