Abirpothi

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The Russian-born Parisian painter whose atelier became a haunt of icons

May 14, On This Day

Tiny but talented: Marie Vassilieff  of Montparnasse

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An integral part of the artistic community on the left bank of Paris, Montparnasse, Russian-born painter Marie Vassilieff studied painting under Henri Matisse and attended classes at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. She was born in February 1884 and died on May 14, 1957.

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Her own artwork is primarily Cubist, and her most interesting paintings are portraits of dancers and her friends, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse. She is also known for decorative furniture pieces and doll-portraits.

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In 1912, she opened her own atelier in Montparnasse, which became a nexus for those at the cutting-edge of art at the time, such as Erik Satie, Matisse, Nina Hamnett, Amedeo Modigliani, Ossip Zadkine, Olga Sacharoff, Juan Gris, and Chaim Soutine. The walls here held a collection of paintings by Marc Chagall and Modigliani, drawings by Picasso and Fernand Léger, and a sculpture by Zadkine.

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What she is most remembered for is her canteen before and during World War I. For many of the artists of Paris, who were already struggling and frequently had little or nothing to eat, , she opened the canteen in 1915 that provided a full meal and a glass of wine for only a few centimes.

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In a popular anecdote, one of her parties had Alfredo Pina invited, with his new companion Beatrice Hastings —who had recently ended her two-year relationship with Modigliani. Knowing Modigliani’s penchant for causing a disturbance when he drank (often), Marie did not invite him to the party. But the art community was small and via word-of-mouth, the uninvited and very drunk Modigliani showed up, looking for a fight. A scuffle ensued, a pistol appeared, and tiny 5-feet Marie pushed Modigliani down the stairs while Picasso and de Zarate locked the door. She even later made a famous drawing of this.

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