Parisienne, Portrait of Irma
The portrait of this round-faced young woman wearing a simple straw hat adorned with a garland of flowers was exhibited at the Salon of French Artists in 1883 under the title Parisienne.
This face seems to match the one mentioned several times in the Diary of Marie Bashkirtseff under the name of Irma: “Well, Irma’s head is nice and quite boldly painted, but it is a thing without pretention” (1 May 1883).
Enrolled as a pupil at the young girls’ painting school at the Julian Academy since 1877, young Marie became a confirmed proponent of naturalism. She was a friend and admirer of the painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), the leader of this new trend which marked a break away from the tradition of retrospective subjects.
Her Parisienne was painted at a time when Marie was attempting to tackle outdoor painting, and shows a desire to “grasp nature in action” (Diary, 7 August 1882) in order to paint life “with tones that sing, and all real tones sing” (Diary, 30 August 1882). Hence the smiling expression of the model seems to have been captured in the moment during a walk.
During the last four decades of her short life, Marie Bashkirtseff, the daughter of a Russian aristocrat, devoted herself passionately to learning painting while writing a personal diary which was published after her death. In 1887, an initial expurgated version of the Diary was published. Marie’s mother distributed drawings, letters, paintings and objects that belonged to her daughter like so many precious relics, in order to honour the memory of the young woman.
At its opening in 1902, the Petit Palais received the gift of a painting sent from Nice, preceded by a letter to the curator in which Mrs Bashkirtseff said, “I am sure that you will want to honour the memory of Marie Bashkirtseff, Russian by birth, French and Parisian in her heart and education, by accepting to display one of her paintings in your new museum.”