Séraphine

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to see the film, Séraphine, with some friends as part of the Denver French Film Festival sponsored by Alliance Francaise. We began with a reception of wine and appetizers at the Tivoli’s StarzFilm Center. There I sat, listening to fragments of French conversation, occasionally understanding a random word or phrase. I decided then I need to get serious about learning the language. A short time later, we were seated in the theater as the room darkened and the film began.

Séraphine is the story of Séraphine Louis (a.k.a. Séraphine de Senlis), a self-taught French painter who wasn’t discovered until she was in her late forties by the famous art collector/dealer Wilhelm Uhde. The movie covers the period of her life from when she met Wilhelm in 1912 to shortly after 1932, when she was admitted into a mental institution. Along the way, we gain a better understanding of this complex character's quirky personality influenced by religion, a manic work ethic, a spirit freed through the outdoors and naïve painting punctuated with song.

Whenever I watch films about other artists, I always look for a common thread; something I can relate to in personality traits, motivation or process. In this particular film, there is a scene when, after she is discovered and begins producing work seriously, Séraphine begins sharing her work with those around her. Proud of her effort, she stands as an easel behind various paintings, gauging the reaction of whomever happens to be around at the moment for a series of private presentations. The camera shifts between Séraphine’s eyes beaming in eager anticipation of a favorable reaction to the facial expressions of her captured audience as they receive her work in a range of emotions from happiness to uncertainty, tolerance to astonishment, and indifference to sheer admiration.

I have had similar experiences. One of my favorite things to do is take JQ to the studio after a night on the town for a private showing. There, I select the right music to set the mood and place my work on an easel for her with the best possible lighting. I have also had clients come by to view the final product of a customized commissioned painting. I make them face the other direction or close their eyes until the work is ready to view to get the full effect. A positive reaction always touches me in a very personal way. It makes me realize how powerful art and the connection from one being to another is.

As I watched Séraphine, I was touched by her determination and knowing. She didn’t care what anybody thought of her work, save Wilhelm. She painted because that was what she had been told to do by her guardian angels and she was determined to listen to them. Though her peers considered her crazy for thinking this way, I believe she was very much in touch with what I can only describe as her intention, from a very deep and connected place. Her life was never pretty; often crude and awkward in fact, but her work was unquestionably beautiful and came from a place that had nothing to do with the external factors of her circumstances. I highly recommend this movie and give it five tubes of paint (based on a five tube rating system).