A sensitive depiction of a Romani woman wearing a beautiful red dress and patterned headscarf. The artist, Jacques Madyol (1874-1950), has captured a complex expression that suggests a thousand stories.
Madyol became fascinated by the Romani people residing in France during the late 1930s/early 1940s. During this period, he painted numerous portraits of women dressed in traditional attire and also occasional group scenes romanticising the Romani way of life. In one such scene, ”Vie nomade”, a mother is cooking for her daughter and granddaughter around an open fire. Behind them, the hills roll on endlessly with picturesque villages cut into the landscape.
It’s interesting to consider why he did this as the reality was entirely different for these persecuted communities. In the 1940s, itinerant Romani people (referred to as ‘nomads’ or ‘gypsies’) were often held within internment camps by either the French or German authorities. At the time, the French believed that 'nomads' should be brought into society forcibly. Whereas the Germans were interring them as the first step towards genocide.
In this portrait, Jacques Madyol suggests a depth that extends beyond the aesthetic alone. There’s an inner steel to her character - a sense of defiance and cultural pride. Yet somehow this is tempered with sorrow and her eyes seem to catch our conscience.
Madyol studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts and was well-known for his portraiture. Two of his portraits, of King Albert I and Queen Elizabeth, are currently in the collection at the Musee de l’Armee in Belgium.
The painting is housed within a decorative foliate frame and signed in the lower right.
Medium: Oil on canvas Overall size: 29” x 34” / 74cm x 86cm Year of creation: c. 1940 Provenance: Belgium Condition: Very presentable with areas of light craquelure. Frame with a few minor losses and age-related wear. Artist’s auction highlight: £7,140 achieved for ‘La Grand Place, Bruxelles’ at an auction in Belgium in 1992.