On this day a century ago, the French politician Marcel Sembat died in Chamonix of a cerebral haemorrhage. A little later, his wife, the artist Georgette Agutte (1867–1922) died by her own hand, leaving two sentences in explanation, “He’s been gone for 12 hours. I’m late.” Agutte is all but forgotten now, but this article commemorates her death on 5 September 1922 by showing a little of her wonderful art.
Agutte was born in Paris in 1867, and from 1885 started her training in sculpture. She married the critic Paul Flat in 1888, and in 1893 started attending painting classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was another four years before the École was prepared to admit women, but she was allowed to go to classes open to the public, as she was forbidden from enrolling there as a student.
She met other artists, including Henri Matisse and Georges Roualt. During the 1890s she met the Socialist politician Marcel Sembat, whose circle included Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce. She divorced in 1894, and set up her workshop in Bonnières-sur-Seine, in the country to the west of Paris, downstream on the River Seine towards Vernon, in the house that Sembat had been brought up in. She married Marcel Sembat in 1897.
This oil sketch on cardboard shows her husband Marcel Sembat Reading some time around 1900.
Her painting of this Ancient Castle from 1903 has ended up in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It appears to be a watercolour sketch of a place in her imagination.
The following year she started exhibiting her paintings, first at the Salon des Indépendants, then she was one of the founders of the Salon d’Automne, where she exhibited regularly. In addition to sculpture and painting, Agutte was active in ‘crafts’ including tapestry, although those works don’t appear to have received much recognition until after her death.
The couple had a chalet built for them at Chamonix in the French Alps, and divided their time between their flat in Paris, her studio in Bonnières, and the Alps.
She painted this nude on a Decorated Plate in 1909.
This oil painting of The Garden at Bonnières, made in 1909-10, is in Impressionist style, although she’s normally considered to be a colourist or even a Fauve, with Post-Impressionist style. The figure sat reading under his umbrella appears to be her husband Marcel.
She made this Allegory of Pain in plaster in about 1910.
Agutte also used unconventional media. Her Still Life with Watermelon, Vase and Carpet from 1912-14 is apparently painted in oil on an asbestos cement support.
She painted this Beautiful Italian Woman in 1919, in Post-Impressionist style.
A bronze version of her marble sculpture Portrait of Jules Guesde was unveiled in Roubaix in 1925. Its subject was born Jules Bazile, and was another French socialist, a journalist and politician, who died just over a month before Marcel Sembat and Georgette Agutte.
On 5 September 1922, when they were together in their chalet in Chamonix, Marcel Sembat died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage. About twelve hours later, Georgette Agutte took her own life, to join him. She was only fifty-five.
The contents of her studio were acquired by the museum in Grenoble, where they were shown in a major retrospective at the end of 2003. It’s surely high time that her art was recorded properly for posterity.
Wikipedia (in French).