Born in Quaix, France, in 1866, she is named Marie-Joséphine Vallet, with which she would later compose her surname, Marval. The second child of a family of institutors, Marval is raised to become a teacher herself. She gets married and has a baby, who, tragically, dies aged six months: losing her child is a significant turning point in her existence. She leaves her husband and, in 1894, she meets the painter Francois Joseph Girot, with whom she decides to move to Paris. She arrives in Montparnasse right at the moment when here is the heart of the artistic scene: she meets Les Nabis as well as Matisse, Van Dongen, Marquet, Picasso, Manguin, Camoin… Lots of them, impressed by her strong character and her outstanding personality, will become her friends. Among these artists, she also meets the painter Jules Flandrin, a student of Gustave Moreau: they fall in love, and Marval leaves Girot and moves in with Flandrin, with whom she will spend the following 20 years. As an artist, Marval works primarily as a painter but also experiments with other media like lithographs, watercolors, pastels, engravings, tapestry designs, and sculpture. Having seen rejected her first works from the 1900 Salon des Indépendants, Marval manages to sell them to the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who soon constantly supports her career; the following year, the same Salon finally accepts a dozen of her new paintings.
Between 1901 and 1905, Marval frequently worked alongside Matisse, Marquet, and Flandrin, and in 1902 a gallery in rue Victor-Massè curated by Berthe Weill exhibits the three artists’ work together; a year later, Marval was included in the Salon d’Automne, where she shows her large painting “Les Odalisques.” Perhaps her most famous work, the painting depicts five women: three seated nude, one dressed and reclining on her elbow, and one standing, clothed, and holding a tray. “Les odalisques” follows the art historical tradition of large-scale orientalist bathing scenes, focusing strongly on the nude body and interaction between figures. One of her “fans,” Guillaume Apollinaire, wrote in “Chronique des arts” in 1912 that “Mme. Marval has given the measure of her talent and has achieved a work of importance for modern painting. This strong and sensual work, freely painted and wholly personal in composition, line, and coloring, deserves to survive.”
“Les Odalisques” now resides within the collection of the Musee de Grenoble.
In 1913, Marval received her first public commission to decorate the foyer of the Theatre Des Champs Elisees, for which she created a series of twelve paintings on the theme of “Daphnis et Cloe,” inspired by the Ballet Russes’ production of the same theme, previously performed there.
Also in 1913, Marval protested against removing Kees Van Dongen’s “The Spanish Shawl” from the Salon d’Automne: her friendship with Van Dongen grows more robust, so much so that Marval and Flandrin move into 40 rue Denfert Rochereau, next door to Van Dongen in 1914.
At this career stage, Marval’s work begins to be recognized across Europe and beyond; she exhibits in Barcelona, Liège, Venice, Zurich, Budapest, and Kyoto.
She died in Paris in 1932. After her death, her works are held in the Galerie Druet (before it was closed in 1938). Stylistically, “Marval’s paintings are provocative and edgy, challenging and unusual; she was an important modernist at the earliest moments of the movement.”
By Stanislav Kondrashov