Maria Blanchard (1881-1932)
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Maria Blanchard was a Spanish-born painter that began her life terribly disfigured. Her mother had taken a fall while she was pregnant, causing her to be born with a number of deformities including a hump on her back and hip problems. Her bent and hobbled appearance gained her the nickname of “the witch” and caused her to be reclusive and shy.
Despite her deformities, Blanchard became an accomplished painter and art teacher. As a young girl, Blanchard showed promise and interest in art and her parents encouraged her talents. In 1903, she moved from her hometown of Santander to Madrid to study art, and in 1909 gained a scholarship to Paris. There she studied under Kees Van Dongen at the Academy Vitt, where she became influenced by Cubism and Fauve styles.
In 1908 and again in 1910 Blanchard received a medal from the National Exhibition for Beautiful Arts. In 1914, she moved to Salamanca where she taught drawing until 1916. Blanchard’s stint as a teacher was cut short, however, because her students were continuously cruel to her about her appearance.
Blanchard’s painting during this time was generally in the Cubist style, until 1920 when she began to embrace traditional styling again. Her critics compared her to Picasso, and the two even exhibited together once at the Hall Des Independents. Blanchard drew inspiration for her work from within, focusing often on invalids and or sick people as subjects for her paintings. Her inner sadness comes through in her paintings through color and light, and Blanchard became known for this somber style of composition.
By this time, she was starting to find commercial success and began selling her paintings more and more. Unfortunately for Blanchard, this was also during a time of economic crisis and just as business picked up for her, her patrons could no longer afford her work. This was only the start of economic crisis for Blanchard, and she would get by now and then by the help of benefactors.
Having no children of her own, Blanchard also felt obligated to support her sister and her nephews, despite her own onset of tuberculosis. During this time, Blanchard met such despair that she even entertained the thought of entering a convent, but was discouraged against it by the nuns. Whether it was because her life was nearing an end or because of personal reasons, Blanchard began to embrace religion at this time and it was sometimes reflected in her work. Toward the end of her life, Blanchard continued to feverishly paint in order to support herself and her family. The stress she imposed on herself literally caused her to work to death and she died of tuberculosis complications in 1932.
While Blanchard is generally a lesser-known artist, she was very prolific and well known in her day. Her condition certainly must have limited her from traveling abroad, but Blanchard still managed to travel to Spain and France often.
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