Marthe Rakine was born in 1906 in Moscow of a Swiss father and a French mother. She spent most of her life in Paris before coming to Canada in 1948 with her husband – painter & sculptor, Boris Rakine.They left Canada in 1958 and took up residence in Lausanne, Switzerland.It is believed that she is deceased as no word has been received from her since 1982.
She studied at: the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, the Grande Chaumiere in Paris with Othon Friesz, and the Ontario College of Art, Toronto where she studied ceramics.
She is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Hart House – University of Toronto, and many private collections in Canada and France.
Born in Moscow, Russia, she lived there only a few years before making her home in Paris. Her father was a Swiss construction engineer and her mother came from Provence in southern France. During her early years she travelled with her father to many countries. It was her travel that stimulated her interest in painting. She worked initially in water colours and painted a wide range of subject matter. Her artistic education began in the heart of the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1926 at the School of Decorative Arts where she took painting courses. She also attended the Sorbonne for other courses. She frequented the Luxembourg Gardens and the Louvre Museum and there visited the art bookshops. It was in this setting that she developed her painting skills. She studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under Othon Friesz (c. 1937) under whom her husband Boris also took studies (they probably met there first). She began exhibiting her work in 1932 and her sensitivity to colours was noted by the art critic Jacques Guenne, director of L’Art Vivant. Her work was later written about by Guy Weelen in an intimate book Marthe Rakine (1949) covering her background, development, influences, philosophy and analysis of her work. During World War II painting was difficult and exhibiting was thought to be a type of collaboration. One painting she showed “Arc de Triomphe”, was purchased by a German general so she decided to abstain from further showings. She turned instead to iconography which she worked on for the next four years and exhibited her icons in a Paris cathedral. Boris and Marthe lived in joint studios in the southwest section of Paris near Porte de Versailles in a cottage hidden beneath a wild grape arbor with its bay windows opening onto a quiet street. By 1945 she was painting reclining women described by Weelen as follows, “Marthe Rakine preferred to paint reclining women, lying near vast windows opening onto a garden or overlooking the sea, in an atmosphere of blissful calm.” But the Rakines found Europe tired and uninspiring after the war so they decided to seek new horizons in the Americas. With a Swiss citizenship, money to support herself and a place to study, Marthe was accepted by Canada late in 1948 and enrolled at the Ontario College of Art where she studied ceramics (1949-50). In 1949 she was joined by her husband Boris. In 1950 she received the “Form and Design” prize awarded by the Drakenfeld Company of New York for her ceramics at the Canadian National Exhibition. She participated in many group shows in Toronto and in 1951 held a solo show at Hart House which roused immediate enthusiasm. In 1952 she was invited to participate in the Canadian section of the Pittsburgh International Exhibition and chose her painting “The Daffodils.” Subsequently she exhibited at the Eaton Fine Art Galleries when Pearl McCarthy noted, “While everything from still life to figures held attention, the recent Canadian landscapes were most surprising. Here was Algonquin Park, done as one had never seen it before, and yet true in spirit to that typical Canadian land. Apparently this artist is a valuable addition to the Toronto art circles.” In 1954 a review of her work appeared in the Montreal Herald, “Mlle. Rakine’s paintings make such direct sensuous appeal that objective comment is difficult. She impresses me as one of the most competent colorists exhibiting in Canada today. Each individual painting is a feast of color presented in the impressionist manner, yet there is not a single discord in the entire display . . . the picture looked at quickly organizes itself, revealing the sound composition that is essential to any form of art.” A three column article in Mayfair by Robert Fulford covered biographical details and noted her painting as follows, “Not surprisingly, the paintings give very little importance to the subjects but emphasize the quality. Her surfaces are exciting and vibrant, full of the piercing tension that can be seen in some of the best non-objective painting. Still, she believes the subjects are important; she thinks total non-objective art is limiting in its emotional scope. ‘It is hard to paint that way with love,’ she says, ‘I think it is quite important that a painter paint with love.” Her paintings were quickly acquired by collectors and public galleries. She returned to Paris in 1958. She was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1953) and the Canadian Group of Painters (1956). Her solo shows include: Hart House, Tor. (1951); Eaton Fine Art Galleries, Tor. (1951); Picture Loan Society, Tor. (1952); Laing Galleries, Tor. (1953); Gallery XII, M.M.F.A., Mtl. (1954); Waddington Galleries, Mtl. (1957). She is represented in the following collections: Hart House, Univ. Tor., Tor.; Art Gallery of Ontario, Tor.; Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston; Art Gallery of Cobourg, Cobourg; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and elsewhere.
Colin S. MacDonald
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada