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The Extraorinary Life of Misia Sert;

Muse to Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard & Vuillard: patron of the Ballet Russes

Presented by Julian Halsby

14th November 2023

Misia Sert - Yahoo free to use.webp

This was such an interesting talk about a woman, claimed to be the most painted in Modern Art and yet almost unknown.  Misia was painted over and over again by, amongst others, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Signac, Bonnard and Villard. Her interests were varied and as her funds grew so did her influence.  She was taught piano by Faure, commissioned Ravel, sung to by Caruso, gossiped with Diaghilev, adored by Stravinsky and Cocteau, and yet died with Coco Chanel at her bedside.

Influence is a nebulous gift. It flourishes when aided by fortunes gathered through three marriages.  How did this not particularly beautiful woman bewitch Renoir almost to the point of madness?  While painting her he would beg Misia to undo just one button of her chemise.  He was chair bound, only able to work with his paintbrushes strapped to his arthritic hands by this time but captured her with the intensity of a lover.  Once you look, you see her image in all the iconic publicity of the early 20th Century Parisian scene.    


Her first husband was a successful magazine owner of “La Revue Blanche”. This publication was THE Art magazine; stylish, geometric, current, and witty. Her husband spent the profits but Misia used it as a vehicle to support her friends, change fashion, challenge the status quo and pushing the boundaries all the time.   Les Six were frequent attendees at her Salon, her two other marriages only increased her spending power and influence.  Childless she spent her money on others. Her patronage was legendary, but the lecturer gave us the impression that she was an enlightened and popular doing that most precious thing of spreading money to fertilise and increase the art of people she admired. 

If you are looking for a novel Christmas present for a loved one commission a piece of music, a picture, a poem from an artist.  Hear their story and their struggle but marvel at the creative process. The joy is double as by supporting the artist, you, like Misia will have a unique gift that will live on.

Lucy Picton- Turbervill

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A member of The Arts Society
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