How an emigrant from Russia became Renoir's muse, Coco Chanel's friend and a "devourer of geniuses": Misia Sert
How an emigrant from Russia became Renoir's muse, Coco Chanel's friend and a "devourer of geniuses": Misia Sert

This woman was one of the most extraordinary personalities of her time. She did not create a single work of art, but decided the fate in the art world, thanks to her, dozens of masterpieces appeared. Her most important creation was her own life, and her most important talent was the ability to recognize geniuses and win their hearts. After emigrating to France, the Polish girl Misia Sert, born in St. Petersburg, became the closest friend of Coco Chanel, a confidant of Sergei Diaghilev and the muse of famous artists Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Bonnard and Vuillard.

Misia Godebska, 1890

Both mother and father of Mizia were Poles, but she was born in St. Petersburg because of a family drama that played out on the eve of her birth. Her father, sculptor and architect Cyprian Godebski, was engaged in the design of the interiors of the imperial palace in St. Petersburg. When his wife Sophie received an anonymous letter stating his infidelity, she immediately came to Russia. It turned out that Cyprian had an affair with her mother's younger sister, and she, too, was expecting a child from him. Exhausted by the long journey and driven to despair by this news, Sophie gave birth to her daughter ahead of schedule and died in childbirth.

Misia Nathanson, 1901

Maria Sofia Olga Zinaida Godebska, or Mizia (affectionate - on behalf of Maria), as her relatives called her, later admitted that she could not forgive her father for this betrayal, or that her stepmother kept her under lock and key for six months for the slightest offenses, and then, after the family moved to Paris, I sent her to a boarding house at the Sacre Coeur church for 6 years. She had to grow up early and take fate into her own hands. At the age of 14, having quarreled with her stepmother, with the help of a family friend, she ran away from home and went to London, and then returned to Paris and began to live an independent life, funds for which were brought to her by private piano lessons. At the age of 15, Mizia married her 19-year-old cousin Tade Natanson.

Misia and Tade Nathanson, 1890s

Her early marriage was not dictated by great love - she just wanted to escape from the care of her father and do what she was most fascinated with - art. Her husband and her brothers published the magazine La Revue blanche, where they published articles on all the cultural events of Paris, published works by Paul Verlaine, Guillaume Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, and illustrations were created by artists Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Possessing impeccable artistic taste, Mizia became the chief ideologist and unofficial editor of this magazine. She often searched for authors and read manuscripts herself, and editors relied on her taste, for she had an unmistakable "flair for geniuses."

Misia in the studio of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1895 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Misia at the Piano, 1897

All the color of Parisian bohemia gathered in their house, artists and poets stayed with them for weeks, and they all admired the beauty, intelligence and generosity of the young mistress. Her husband was rich, and Mizia handed out checks, negotiated orders, and hosted charity evenings. She never hid the fact that she really loves to be in the spotlight, and this was not difficult for her. She liked to surround herself with talented people and own their minds and souls, for which she received the nickname "eater of geniuses." For many outstanding poets and artists, she became a muse.Mallarmé painted her fan with his poems, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard and Renoir, with whom she was credited with an affair, depicted her in their paintings. Renoir created 7 portraits of her!

Auguste Renoir. Misia with a dog, 1906. Fragment Left - Pierre Bonnard. Misia and Tade Nathanson, 1906. Right - Felix Vallotton. Misia at the dressing table, 1989

Soon Mizia became a real trendsetter in Paris: if at a concert, play or exhibition she began to applaud, many followed her example - if she appreciated it, then it really is worthy of praise. The aristocrats began to invite her to their salons, and Mizia became a regular at social events. Once, at one of these events, she met a major industrialist Alfred Edwards. Although he was married, he immediately began courting Mizia and came up with a cunning trick: he offered her husband to become a sponsor of his projects, and in return demanded … to give him his wife! Alfred got divorced and proposed to her. He was so persistent that in 1905 Misia became Mrs. Edwards. At the same time, she did not hide the fact that the main argument was the millions of her new spouse.

Jean Edouard Vuillard. Misia at the Piano, 1896. Fragment Left - Pierre Bonnard. Misia, 1908. Right - Auguste Renoir. Portrait of Misia Sert, 1904

Her husband gave her a 100-foot yacht, on which she lived for a long time and received guests. Once Enrico Caruso himself sang there for her, and she asked him to shut up, because she wanted to listen to the cries of seagulls. Mizia still managed her wealth as she wanted and spent huge sums on art. For the wheelchair-bound Renoir, she ordered a special elevator to be built in their house so that the artist could still visit her and paint her portraits. Misia has patronized many young talents and recognized masters. She said about herself: ""

Jean Edouard Vuillard. Misia Nathanson, 1899 Left - L. Bakst. Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, portrait with a nanny, 1905. Right - S. Diaghilev, photo

It was thanks to her that Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Seasons, due to which he initially suffered losses, became very successful. Today, Mizia would be a professional producer - she dictated fashion and turned performances into sensations. Diaghilev's productions, which had failed premieres, were soon staged in crowded halls thanks to her. For him, she became the main adviser, friend and patron of the arts. The famous impresario admired her business acumen, impeccable taste, ability to do business and considered her the godmother of Russian ballet in Paris.

Coco Chanel

There is nothing surprising in the fact that fate brought Mizia together with another trendsetter - Coco Chanel. They became very close friends. Coco admitted that Misia taught her a lot, instilled in her an artistic taste and introduced her to all artistic Paris. Chanel modeled clothes, and her friend skillfully presented them, was her main "showcase": everything she wore was immediately sought by all Parisian fashionistas in their wardrobe. Later, in her memoirs, Coco wrote: "".

Misia (center) with Coco Chanel in 1923 in Venice Muse of famous artists Misia Sert

Her marriage to Edwards ended very predictably: her husband lost his head from the young actress and divorced Mizia. She did not grieve for long and soon got married. Her third husband was the Spanish artist Jose Maria Sert. She really loved him and later wrote about her marriages like this: "".

Pierre Bonnard. Misia on the couch, 1914

They lived together for 20 years, but this marriage ended in the same way - Sert fell in love with a young beauty. Mizia spent her last years all alone. She became addicted to morphine and lost the meaning of life. The only person who supported her until her last days was Coco Chanel. It was she who saw her off on her last journey in 1950. In 2015, a new fragrance appeared in the Chanel perfume collection. He was named "Misia" - after the woman she considered her closest friend.

Muse of famous artists Misia Sert Muse of famous artists Misia Sert

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