Margaret Lefranc & Anna Walinska

By law every three years, Margaret, her parents, and her older sister and brother returned to New York to renew passports. During one of their trips to the United States, her sister, Celeste, introduced her to Claude Bragdon [1]. Older than her father, Bragdon’s views on theosophy, and his love of the theater and architecture were important influences on Lefranc, helping to round out her education during the years of their friendship. He also took Margaret under his wing and introduced her to his friends, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe. 

“Stieglitz was kind of a dull man. Nice enough, but cold…Stieglitz looked at my work very seriously and then he straightened up…and said, “Young lady, you’re very gifted, obviously.  But you are also very French. You need to be an American. Come back when you’ve lived in America for ten years.  My gallery specializes in American art…” [2] 

“Of course, ten years later, when I had come back to America to live, what did I do but fund and open my own gallery” with a woman, Anna Walinska, whose parents were neighbors of Margaret’s parents.  Lefranc originally wanted to open the gallery with her sister, but Celeste and her husband were delayed for four more years needing to close Ed’s business. Margaret left Europe earlier since she could tuck her art under her arm and transport it. As she stated, “The ominous shadow of Nazism forced me to leave the successful beginning of my career in Paris.” However, once in New York she had to alter her career. The financial world was quite different as there had been the Great Depression and the stock market crash [3].

The first time that Lefranc publicly stated, “I was my cheapest and best model,” she was painting Self-Portrait (1928). She drew and painted numerous self-portraits during her lifetime because—as she stated—“ I liked studying the changes of expression in my face.”  The last time she exhibited Self-Portrait (1928) [4] was in the Independent Spirits show in Los Angeles. Margaret noted that she was surrounded by a group of people who said, “We love your painting. It’s so strong. What did you call it?” Lefranc answered laughing, “Self-portrait of an artist with a humongous scowl,” [5] adding that she took herself quite seriously when she was young. She was one of the few living artists who was physically able at age eighty-eight to attend the exhibition and to meet Gene Autry. She had Sandra McKenzie by her side looking after her while McKenzie reminisced with Autry about her own childhood watching his cowboy movies at the local theater.

Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890–1945 opened at the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles in October 1995 and subsequently traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Provo, Utah; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico. A beautiful catalogue accompanied the large women’s touring exhibition organized by Sandra D’Emilio [6], but sadly she died in the middle of it never seeing her dream come to fruition. Sharyn Udall [7] finished the essay. D’Emilio, (who loved Margaret’s watercolors), Lefranc and McKenzie had begun the interviews regarding a book on Lefranc’s life. Lefranc was deeply saddened by the death of her friend.

 

[1] Claude Bragdon, 1866–1946, author and lecturer, also practiced architecture in Rochester, New York, from 1901 to 1923. He was also a bridge builder and set designer for the plays of Walter Hampden.

[2] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, pg. 77

[3] Women Artists of the American West, Introduction, edited by Susan Ressler pg. 4, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, and Margaret Lefranc (Schoonover), Biography,” in Susan Ressler, ed., Women Artists of the American West Website (W. Lafayette, IN:  Purdue University, 1998), http://www.sla.purdue.edu/waaw/lefranc/index.html.)

[4] Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890–1945, edited by Patricia Trenton, Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with the University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1995, plate 174 on pg. 176, Inner Voices, Outward Forms: Women Painters in New Mexico (pg. 153–182), essay by Sandra D. Emilio 1939–1995, Curator of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Sharyn Udall, Art Historian and independent curator, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[5] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, pg. 243.

[6] Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890–1945, Sandra D. Emilio 1939–1995, Op.cit.

[7] Ibid, Sharyn Udall, Op. cit.