My maternal grandmother, Hélène, was a professional portrait artist. From time to time, as I catalog the family photos, I’ll recognize a photograph as the basis for a portrait that I grew up with in our home. Or sometimes it’s a photo that I recognize as the same era as particular painting. It’s like finding a photo of an old friend or a long-forgotten party. Even though I wasn’t even alive when the photo was taken I get a sense of recognition for the time and place because I knew the painting so intimately growing up with it in my home.
[Hélène Baronnie, 1950s? Sadly, the pastel on the right was water damaged in a flood and is lost to us.]
Many years after she’d died we’d find books tucked away in closets that were full of sketches that she’d used for portraits. The one below is a sketch she did of me as a young girl. An artist study is not particularly worthwhile when you own the finished painting and yet I can’t bear to just throw them away. So I scanned many of them instead.
I love the pastel she made from this series of photographs and the sketches. Next time I’m at my mom’s home I’ll take a photo of it and show it to you.
Minutes after I was born my grandmother was sketching me. This is a rare privilege.
[Samantha Chardin, Four years old? Maybe three?]
[Maria Baroni & Hélène Baronnie, 1960s Park Ridge, Illinois]
It is a funny thing to know that I will someday become the one who safeguards the dozens of portraits and that they may be passed down to future grandchildren. All these representations of my maternal family members could potentially hang on the walls of our descendents. All thanks to my grandmother Hélène and her great artistic talent.
I will share more of these with you in the future. There are literally hundreds of paintings. Not just the family portraits, but landscapes and paintings she did during her world travels that include depictions of exotic places and people.
[One of Hélène Baronnie’s exhibitions in New York City, 1970s.]
Every wall in our home looked something like this.