l’art de la modernité

As soon as She arrived in Paris in 1897, Jacqueline Marval participated in the extraordinary adventure of Modern Art. She already had a close relationship with fashion: in 1891, after the breakup of her marriage, Marval - then known as Marie-Joséphine Vallet - began working as a waistcoat maker. She was then employed in Grenoble by Monsieur Colombe “who saw flock into his boutique elegant Grenoble clients who all wanted a waistcoat embroidered by Marie as she had suck good taste and a solid reputation”. 

In Paris, she also made a living as a waistcoat maker-embroiderer, in the Montparnasse of the time, home to many artists. When she set out for Paris, according to Marval: “I sold all of that remained of my furniture and books, for the sum of 250 francs to buy myself a sewing machine”. Her very strong desire to be independent drove her to fashion and sewing - because one had to be able to survive in the implacable Paris of the late nineteenth century. The companion of Jules Flandrin and a student in Gustave Moreau’s studio in 1897 - 1898, like Rouault, Marquet, Matisse, Manguin and Camoin, to name a few, Marval was quickly allowed into the group; after meeting them “taking up brushes and palette”, she blossomed and revealed an unfettered talent with total freedom - an avant-garde one, in short.

Marval managed to get herself accredited as a “woman artist” by the Salon des Indépendants in 1901, where she exhibited her large Odalisque au Guépard in the company of her friends Matisse, Marquet, Manguin and Flandrin, who also featured in the salon for the first time. 

In 1929 Andry-Farcy wrote: “Marval was the glorious explorer of the virgin forest of ‘Fauvism’, where, as a subtle white panther, she would lead the horde of Fauves on the new pathways of a new war against academism: Matisse, Braque, Vlaminck, Dufy, Friesz and van Dongen. She was the clear and divine agitator of the revolt of which Jules Flandrin, every year, during the holidays, regularly brought back to his Grenoble friends a bit of the reasoned tumult, a tumult so attractive that Francis James ‘left Orthez to go Marval at her Salon d’Automne’.” (1) 

Jacqueline Marval: a feminist character

The talent in her painting is the reflection of a complete personality and thus found herself to be in her lifestyle, attitudes and clothes of  a renewed style that some would qualify as performance art today. Thus, Marval easily showed the evolution of the dress from the late nineteenth century to  the early twentieth century, whether in her own outfits or in her paintings. 

These paintings describe with a certain irony to lives of  women of this period - when women were  often limited to the family and household chores. Thus, in Les Soeurs Couseuses (The Seamstress Sisters, 1912)  and Les Tricoteuses  (The Knitters, 1915), who  from the grandmother to the granddaughter are all hunched over the needlework, together in the outdoors, surrounded by flowers and in a well gentle landscape, transmit manners that for want of being good are very  restrictive.

Likewise, paintings such as Les Tristes (The Sad Ones, 1906) and Les Neurasthéniques (The Neurasthenics, 1906) also show these women, limited or condemned to wander among themselves in a garden that is no longer Eden. These women are represented as being « in their places », locked in a feminine role that Marval denounces, and does not correspond to her at all. 

Marval, then a Parisian, showed a great desire from freedom and independence. This attitude of a free, unapologetic woman showed through in her  outfits: straight, the waist rarely defined or empire waistline for more comfort, Marval, like many, tried to be comfortable in her clothes. 

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century marked a turning point in the history of fashion; the emancipation of women and the growing importance of sport contributed to the evolution of female wardrobe. The role of  women evolved; they had to move more as henceforth they worked and took part ini sport. Gradually, the garments immobilizing them disappeared, replaced by suppler, lighter and more modern pieces. 

This revolution in dress was in large part due to the great couturier Paul Poiret  (1879 - 1944), who contributed to the physical emancipation of woman by getting rid of a key element of the female wardrobe: the corset. Far from  the dresses fettering women’s bodies at the time, Poiret’s designs were fluid, light and often considered scandalous (it is to Poiret whom we owe culottes, invented in 1911 and disapproved of by many, including Pope Pius X). A longstanding friend of Marval with whom she spent time in Biarritz with during the summer,  Poiret dressed uher in his fluid dresses with empire waistlines or lightly belted at the waist, which gave her a natural elegance while leaving her free to move. The sleeves, often short, allowed her to practice her principal activity: painting.

In his Souvenirs, the painter Gabriel Fourniier (1893 - 1963) wrote the following about Marval’s clothes: « Jacqueline Marval had pride of place, adulated like a queen. Dressed by Paquin, then by Poiret, she proudly carried her head held back so that her eyes with their heavy lids and brown bags could be seen; a line of blue pencil underlined the arch of the eyebrows. Wearing an immense  hat over her red hair, when it wasn’t green, cut straight with a fringe over the forehead, she looked very eccentric indeed. She loved uncovering one of her shoulders, naturally, as if by accident, and showing flesh that was luxuriant, trembling and still  beautiful. Her party trick was to stop the fall  of the garment at the lipstick red nipple or - as I saw only once - at the navel! And this with an elegant gesture of the hand (…) a grace (…) and a fluttering of her enormous nostril which  would have aroused the person the most impervious to love. » (2)

Marval’s attitude to dress as well as her eccentricity showed all of her avant-garde and free side, resolutely Parisian, which was also evident in her painting.

The place of fashion in  Marval’s works

Fashion had a very important place in Marval’s  work.

One does not necessarily notice this immediately when looking at her works, but  clothing, or the absence of clothing, was in fact a genuine political, and, once again, avant-garde discourse.

On the other hand, we clearly see in Marval’s work the sociological evolution of the garment and the emancipation of bodies. This emancipation is above all conveyed by the fluidity of the garments she painted. The pleats and folds show clothes that are not restrictive, allowing women more freedom and freedom of movement. Dresses were shorter, shoulders were often bared - Les Coquettes (1903). Everything endeavored, following the example of Poiret, to liberate women’s bodies.

Marval denounces the place society gave her and women in general, but represented them always mobile and brought and evident movement to the dresses she painted. 

The large painting (200 x 230 cm) “Les Odalisques”, painted in 1902-1903 and now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Grenoble, shows five women, three of them wearing just turbans, facing each other while waiting for a « hypothetical client » around a low table and exchanging fruits, in front of  half-open curtains opening a mysterious perspective. Extremely powerful, the painting caused a commotion at the Salon des Indépendants in 1903 and is one of the rare canvases to find famous with Apollinaire, an art critic in his spare time.

the critic of this expected role is also seen in the paintings “les tristes” and “les neurasthéniques”, circa 1906-1907.

It is interesting to find in the painting of the century by Picasso heralding cubism, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1906 - 1907), the same composition in a similar but reversed format. Even more so knowing that during a late 1905 visit to van Dongen and Marval, Picasso and Fernande expressed their admiration of Marval’s Les Odalisques at the Salon des Indépendants in 1903. 

It is amusing to observe that the two paintings were hung from the same picture rails, perhaps face to face, at the Salon d’Antin in 1916, the only salon of the 1914 - 1918 period, with the numbers 103 and 129 and where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was exhibited publicly for the first time. 

Lucien Mainssieux (1885 - 1958), painter, musician, writer and often patron of this friends, wrote in his memoirs in around 1950: “When a few years have passed from our very troubled contemporary times, the paintings and decorations of Jacqueline Marval will be at a premium, and, with their perversely ingenuous charm, sought after as are now the canvases of Manet and Berthe Morisot, the muse of painters seventy years ago.
May Marval’s straight forward yet sly paintings make the scales fall off the eyes of artists: the Marquets, the Flandrins, the Matisses, all waited with a curiosity full of emotion each of her new productions, while seeing her in extraordinary straw hats and Célimène-style gauzy dresses in front of the picture rails of the Salon des Indépendants or Salon d’Automne. While she passed like a meteor in a rustling of frills and furbelows: it was the heroic period.
But the people that appeared ‘Fauves’ and mad at the time will be the Monets, van Goghs and  Renoirs of tomorrow. We are already entering immortality with our friends, enemies and dreams. 

It’s Bouche, dead today, as well as Luce and Vuillard, it’s Laprade and Marval, dead yesterday. What splendor and only genius. Our era will not be unworthy of the past prestige of French Art.” (3)

Marval left behind several paintings accurately illustrating the evolution of the place of women at the tum of the twentieth century through that of fashion. Her personality, a liberated woman with modern and bold dress sense largely influenced her palette and paintings. 


1. From the introduction to the book about Jacqueline Marval by her friend Andry-Farcy, curator at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Grenoble from 1919 to 1949 (Editions Albert Morancé, 1929).
2. Gabriel Fournier (painter, 1893 - 1963), Cors de Chasse (Souvenirs) (Geneva: Edition Pierre Caillier, 1957).
3. Lucien Mainssieux, Écrits sur l’art et Tablettes quotidiennes, 1945 - 1953 (Archives Musée Mainssieux, Voiron).

- Text by Camille Roux Dit Buisson for the Art of MODErnity exhibition, Geneva