About the Open House Project

Apartment 4 is the first in the Open House Project series, an ongoing Arts Center initiative providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists and art forms. Artists and organizations are invited to collaborate and experiment with new ideas and original content in exhibitions that use the galleries in the John Michael Kohler home as a place for artistic inquiry. The home, built in 1883, is a unique setting for the generation of new curatorial explorations of topics ranging from the familiar to the phenomenal.

Iris Häussler and The Chipstone Foundation:

Apartment 4

June 22, 2018 - June 16, 2019

Florence in Paris: Marie Vassilieff’s atelier

Submitted by Julie Niemi
Posted April 18, 2019

What did Florence Hasard’s community in Paris look like? Cubist artist and arts organizer Marie Vassilieff’s atelier and its surrounding activities allow us to speculate about the larger creative milieu in Paris. In looking at Vassilieff’s influence on the arts community, one can assume that Florence was a guest at her atelier around 1916, before she left the city to work as a nurse in World War I. 

During the first decade of the twentieth century, artists began moving from Montmartre to the more affordable neighborhood of Montparnasse in Paris. When Florence Hasard was twenty-two years old, her life overlapped with the burgeoning Parisian art community located in the center of the Seine River’s left bank. Florence’s integration into the creative community organically happened through her work as a model for Parisian artists. Although Florence was not seeking out creative opportunities—in fact she shied away from openly considering herself an artist—an invitation to a canteen located down an alleyway on 21 Avenue du Maine placed her in the center of the art world. The canteen, hosted by Marie Vassilieff, opened in 1915 to provide nourishing refuge for lower-class residents and artists.[1] Florence’s profession and her desire to find a new community brought her into Marie’s atelier as a guest and as a model.

Perhaps the similarities in Florence’s and Marie’s lives brought the two women together. It is also likely that Florence, having already lived in Paris for close to ten years, provided a reliable friendship for newcomer Marie. Marie moved from her hometown of Smolensk, Russia, to Paris in 1910. When she arrived, she was hired as Henri Matisse’s studio assistant. The war altered Marie’s trajectory in 1914, when she served a very brief term as a nurse for the Red Cross. Sympathetic to impacts the war had on the physical and mental health of artists and creatives in general, Marie opened a bustling canteen out of her atelier. She circumvented a citywide curfew by authorizing it as a private club. It was also one of the few places to buy alcohol during the war. The canteen was a hit and rapidly became a gathering place for artists. Guests could help themselves to a plate of food and a glass of wine for just a few centimes.[2] Among the usual clientele were French painters Erike Satie, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Amedeo Modigliani. Early in their careers and avoiding the early days of the war, these now canonical artists used Marie’s studio as a space to plot new works, exchange ideas, and just exist in good company.

Marie was also an active artist. Her early work comprises a painterly aesthetic akin to Cubism, with her paintings replete with pastel hues that favored geometric shapes or sharp lines over realistic depictions of life. She gleaned inspiration from a close-knit circle of people, at times demonstrating that she was an avid documentarian. In her observational sketches, she used thick black line work to construct compositions reflecting the energetic milieu that unfolded around her, through her, and by her—the atmosphere of her atelier canteen.

In a black ink drawing from 1917, Marie depicts a dinner party she threw in honor of painter Georges Braque after he returned from military service, wounded and unable to work as manual laborer. In the illustration, Marie is at the head of the table. She wields a knife in one hand, a large platter in the other. A man wearing eyeglasses hands her a chicken. Seated around the table is Blaise Cendrars, Fernand Leger, Jacob Beatrice Hastings, Juan Gris, Braque, and Pablo Picasso (with a severed arm).[3] Based on the gestures of the guests and the position of Marie, it appears as though there is an altercation in the crowd, another rowdy night at the canteen.

While not much is known about Florence’s life in Europe, it is likely Florence attended a gathering such as this at Marie’s atelier. Her work as an artist model for working-class artists on the Seine’s left bank leads us to believe she was an active member of the canteen. Through Marie’s friendship, Florence was able to find a supportive community before her ultimate departure into the throws of World War I.

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[1] Mary Blume, International Herald Tribune. "Marie Vassilieff:A Splash of Montparnasse Color." The New York Times. October 03, 1998. Accessed February 26, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/03/style/IHT-marie-vassilieffa-splash-of-montparnasse-color.html.
[2] ibid.
[3] Villa Vassilieff & Bétonsalon. "History of Villa Vassilieff." Villa Vassilieff. Accessed February 26, 2019. http://www.villavassilieff.net/?Chronology.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Chipstone FoundationKohler Trust for the Arts and EducationKohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.