Friday, May 16, 2014

A Painter of the Sacred Heart

Séraphine Louis, called  Séraphine de Senlis, 1864 - 1942
Fleurs dans un panier
c 1910
Gouache on paper
29 x 20 cm
Musée d'art et d'archéologie, Senlis

I have written on a number of occasions before about the great French artist Séraphine Louis (1864-1942)(also known as Séraphine de Senlis)

She was one of a group of painters whom the art critic Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) "discovered" in the 1920s

They were Séraphine Louis,  Louis Vivin, André Bauchant, and Camille Bombois

All self taught. Their work was described as  “Primitive” and “naïf ”  (but not naive)

In 1928 Uhde described them as Les peintres du Cœur sacré, ("The Painters of the Sacred Heart") which was the title of he exhibition of their works in Paris which he organised for them to great acclaim and sent them into great public knowledge and esteem

Sadly she became ill in later years and was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Villers-sous-Erquery

She died on 11th December 1942 aged 78 years and was buried in a paupers communal grave in Clermont

She was one of the 40,000 psychatric patients who died of starvation in the harsh and barbaric conditions of French psychiatric hospitals in  Vichy France ("L'extermination douce") during the occupation by the Germans

Her medical record states that she died of starvation and was reduced to cutting grass at night to eat as well as eating rubbish

This was a common occurrence in French psychiatric hospitals at this time, following on the ideas of the French Eugenicists including the Nobel Prize Winner, Alexis Carrel

The painting above  is an early work of Louis, before her discovery by Uhde

On the back of the painting there is a text: Consécration des familles chrétiennes au coeur de Jésus

She appears to have had a strong Christian faith although not perhaps mainstream

On 29th June 1943, Pope Pius XII published his Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi which includes this passage written in the middle of the Second World War, only six months after the death of Louis and while the killing was still going on:
"94. For as the Apostle with good reason admonishes us: "Those that seem the more feeble members of the Body are more necessary; and those that we think the less honourable members of the Body, we surround with more abundant honour."[ I Cor., XII, 22-23]  
Conscious of the obligations of Our high office We deem it necessary to reiterate this grave statement today, when to Our profound grief We see at times the deformed, the insane, and those suffering from hereditary disease deprived of their lives, as though they were a useless burden to Society; and this procedure is hailed by some as a manifestation of human progress, and as something that is entirely in accordance with the common good.  
Yet who that is possessed of sound judgment does not recognize that this not only violates the natural and the divine law [Decree of the Holy Office, 2 Dec. 1940: A.A.S., 1940, p. 553] written in the heart of every man, but that it outrages the noblest instincts of humanity?  
The blood of these unfortunate victims who are all the dearer to our Redeemer because they are deserving of greater pity, "cries to God from the earth."[Gen., IV, 10.]"