Bashkirtseff was born Maria Konstantinovna Bashkirtseva in Gavrontsi near Poltava to a wealthy noble family, but her parents separated when she was quite young. As a result, she grew up mostly abroad, traveling with her mother throughout most of Europe, with longer spells in Germany and on the Riviera, until the family settled in Paris. Educated privately and with early musical talent, she lost her chance at a career as a singer when illness destroyed her voice. She then determined on becoming an artist, and she studied painting in France at the Robert-Fleury studio and at the Académie Julian. Bashkirtseff would go on to produce a remarkable, if fairly conventional, body of work in her short lifetime, exhibiting at the Paris Salon as early as 1880 and every year thereafter until her death (except 1883). In 1884, she exhibited a portrait of Paris slum children entitled The Meeting and a pastel portrait of her cousin, for which she received an honorable mention.
Bashkirtseff’s best-known works are The Meeting (now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and In the Studio, a portrait of her fellow artists at work. Although a large number of Bashkirtseff’s works were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, at least 60 survive. As a painter, Bashkirtseff took her cue from her friend Jules Bastien-Lepage’s admiration for realism and naturalism.
From approximately the age of 13, Bashkirtseff kept a journal, and probably, it is for this that she is most famous today. It has been called “a strikingly modern psychological self-portrait of a young, gifted mind,” and her urgent prose, which occasionally breaks out into dialogue, remains extremely readable. She was multilingual and despite her self-involvement, was a keen observer with an acute ear for hypocrisy, so that her journal also offers a near-novelistic account of the late nineteenth century European bourgeoisie.
Bashkirtseff’s journal was first published in 1887, and was only the second diary by a woman published in France to that date. It was an immediate success, not least because its cosmopolitan confessional style was a marked departure from the contemplative, mystical diaries of the writer Eugénie de Guérin that had been published in 1862.
Books about Marie Bashkirtseff:
- Fisher T. A Study of Marie Bashkirtseff. Unwin, 1892.
- Gerro. Marie Bashkirtseff. Moscow, 1905.
- S. Kachmarska. Marie Bashkirtseff. Prague, 1927.
- Creston, Dormer, and Dorothy Julia Baynes. Fountains of Youth: The Life of Marie Bashkirtseff. Taylor & Francis, 1936.
- Guy De Maupassant and Marie Bashkirtseff. “I Kiss Your Hands”: The Letters of Guy de Maupassant and Marie Bashkirtseff. Rodale Press, 1954.
- Vincent Cronin. Four Women in Pursuit of an Ideal. London, Collins, 1965.