In the autumn of 1923, Marie Laurencin was working for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes established in Paris, Monte-Carlo and London, and was designing the costumes and sets for the ballet Les Biches [The Does]. At the same time, Coco Chanel (1883-1971) was creating the costumes for the same company’s Le Train Bleu [The Blue Train] operetta based on the scenario by Jean Cocteau and music by Darius Milhaud. Already rich and famous, Coco Chanel commissioned Marie Laurencin to paint her portrait, who was just beginning her career as a portrait painter.
The artist painted Chanel face on, seated in a languid pose, her head resting on her right arm. Marie Laurencin was by then constantly mingling animals and humans, and here represents a white poodle sitting on the model's knees. On the right-hand side of the painting, another dog is leaping towards a turtle dove which appears to be descending from the sky towards Coco Chanel, like the dove of the Holy Spirit, perhaps a symbol of freedom? The soft harmony of the colours - green, blue and pink - is reinforced by the long black line of the scarf draped around the model's neck.
Chanel did not appreciate the portrait and refused to buy it from Marie Laurencin. The latter, furious, was unwilling to paint a second portrait and kept the original.
Provenance: Paul Rosenberg (?); Paul Guillaume (?); Domenica Walter