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Portrait of Young Genius - A book that celebrates a brilliant artistic mind



In Portrait of Young Genius - The Mind and Art of Marie Bashkirtseff (Vernon Press, 2017) Dr Joel L. Schiff paints an intimate and captivating portrait of a young Ukrainian-French woman (the French claim her as one of their own as she lived, worked, and received her formal training in France, and the Russian consider her theirs given that, e.g., much of her art is exhibited at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg) who excelled as a painter and gained international fame and recognition.

 


 



Portrait of Young Genius is a brilliant study that attracts and engages the reader from the very first page. The narrative style is driven and engaging and through a regular use of rhetoric Schiff establishes a dialogue with the reader through which we get close to Marie Bashkirtseff herself. We find ourselves irresistibly drawn to a woman whose bold and revolutionary thoughts were of vital importance then and now, and whose artistic work has left a long-lasting impression. Marie Bashkirtseff indeed succeeded in “showing society a woman who … made her mark in spite of all her disadvantages” (238). A book not to be missed!

Annons:

Her career took off and she had made a name for herself in artistic circles when her life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis in 1884. Marie Bashkirtseff died at age 25. Schiff’s book sheds light on the woman and the artist and explores also her innermost thoughts voiced in regular journal entries that allow the reader to gain a complete picture and understanding of Bashkirtseff; we share her doubts and happiness, enthusiasm and fears. All along, Schiff skilfully demonstrates what a strong woman Bashkirtseff was, driven by a need to excel artistically (“I cannot live ignored and lost in the crowd; I must distinguish myself”) (190) and to be a voice for women’s rights in a society where women enjoyed very limited freedom of movement and expression (“Men have 36 chances; women have only one, the zero … I’ve never before been so revolted against the condition of women!”) (101).

 

Maria Konstantinovna Bashkirtseva was born 24 November 1858 in Gavrontsi near Poltava - which was then part of Greater Russia but is now Ukraine. Her parents were of high social standing and the artistically and mentally precocious Marie Bashkirtseff, as she would later call herself, was musically gifted and artistically versatile, her art praised worldwide; she was an impressive painter and sculptor. Surprisingly given her tender age she was also a brilliant thinker and writer fervently engaged in social and political debates.

 

A strong supporter of freedom and equality for women, at a time when “the prejudice against women becoming a professional artist was immense” (81), Bashkirtseff expressed her opinions with bravado in communication with members generally of the opposite sex and who belonged to the social and political elite, not only in Russia but also in France, Italy and Spain. She seduced and impressed her audience wherever she went. France became a second home to Bashkirtseff and she also became passionately attached to parts of Spain where she is said to have had an artistic “epiphany” (130). Schiff particularly highlights Bashkirtseff‘s fascination with the works of Velázquez and Ribera in Burgos, the Prado Museum in Madrid, and the La Alhambra Moorish fortress in Granada - not to mention her admiration of Spanish women at the time. Bashkirtseff was close to a number of prominent individuals including dukes, counts and cardinals and was at one stage even personally greeted by Pope Pius IX.

 

A voice to be reckoned with, Bashkirtseff gained recognition as an individual, woman and artist in her own right, capable of influencing people then and now: her thoughts ring true to this day. Schiff’s book celebrates Bashkirtseff’s mind and also her physical beauty - which she herself could appreciate and sought to use to her advantage (“For a long time, I have known that nothing in the world is as beautiful as my body, and that it’s a real sin, an infamous thing, not to have myself sculptured or painted”) (178). In Schiff’s perfectly crafted analysis he has gained further insights from his communication with, e.g., representatives of the Cercle des Amis de Marie Bashkirtseff, The Foundation "Renaissance de la mémoire de Marie Bashkirtseff", and The State Museum of St Petersburg.

 

Portrait of Young Genius is a brilliant study that attracts and engages the reader from the very first page. The narrative style is driven and engaging and through a regular use of rhetoric Schiff establishes a dialogue with the reader through which we get close to Marie Bashkirtseff herself. We find ourselves irresistibly drawn to a woman whose bold and revolutionary thoughts were of vital importance then and now, and whose artistic work has left a long-lasting impression. Marie Bashkirtseff indeed succeeded in “showing society a woman who … made her mark in spite of all her disadvantages” (238). A book not to be missed!

 

 

 

 

 

Jytte Holmqvist

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