The Extraordinaty Life of Misia Sert:
Muse to Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard & Vuillard: Patron of the Ballet Russes; Concert Pianist
14th November 2023
Presented by Julian Halsby
Julian Halsby was born in North London to a Scottish mother and American father and attended Highgate School. He won an exhibition to Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1966 to read History and after Part One, changed to the History of Art. During his gap year Julian taught English at the British Institute of Florence and it was in Florence that he acquired a passion for art history.
After graduating in 1971 Julian began lecturing at Croydon College of Art, eventually becoming Senior Lecturer and Head of the Postgraduate Conservation Department. He also lectured in other London art colleges and was an early lecturer for NADFAS in the 1970’s. Eventually Julian decided to go freelance and set up an art gallery with his wife in Highgate, specialising in late 19th century paintings and Modern British, in particular the work of painters from the New English Art Club. They gave Peter Kuhfeld his first one-man exhibitions.
Born Marie Godebska, daughter of a Polish sculptor living in France, Misia was brought up in Brussels and Paris where she became a pupil of Gabriel Fauré and a noted concert pianist. In 1893 she married Thadée Natanson owner of ‘La Revue Blanche’ an important art magazine which featured the work of Bonnard, Vuillard, and Toulouse–Lautrec all of whom painted and drew the beautiful and talented Misia Natanson.
Renoir painted her portrait while declaring his love for her, as did Edouard Vuillard and during the 1890’s the Natansons were at the centre of the Paris art world.
Misia’s life changed when her husband lost his money which led to the breakdown of her marriage. She met and married a rich industrialist Alfred Edwards and Misia enjoyed her role as a wealthy patron of artists and musicians. Maurice Ravel dedicated ‘La Cygne’ and ‘La Valse’ to Misia who also accompanied Caruso on the piano. In 1909 the marriage ended when Edwards fell for the young actress Genevieve Lantelme. Misia soon met and married José-Maria Sert a highly successful Spanish painter of extravagant murals.
1908 Misia saw a production of ‘Boris Godunov’ designed by Serge Diaghilev thus starting a close relationship with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Misia helped finance the company and took a keen interest in the new music by Stravinsky, Satie and others. She was with Diaghilev when he died in Venice in 1929.
In 1917 Misia met Coco Chanel and admired “her genius, lethal wit, sarcasm and maniacal destructiveness, which intrigued and appalled everyone”: these two extraordinary women were inseparable in their later years. This is an extraordinary and fascinating story of a talented and beautiful woman who was muse and patron of the arts who has been described as ‘The Queen of Paris’.