British artist Molly Lambourn and Swedish artist Maria Björklund’s friendship began soon after connecting, initially exchanging ideas over email which soon led to regular video and phone calls. The pair were keen to establish a strong connection, friendship and find similarities which would inspire their creativity. Their early conversations found inspiration in the works of great women, looking to Swedish poets, women writers and iconic female artists like Frida Kahlo. The pair shared an interest in heritage fashion, dolls, and ceramic objects. They share an intrigue for the home and overlooked items with a story to tell. When we perceive the object as a character in the story, a passive listener who is always looking, watching and absorbing we begin to look at our lives in intrigue, the decisions behind why we like things, what we keep and inherit, what we place around ourselves is indeed a reflection of the mind. Josephine Bonaparte, the star of this pair's story is an individual who truly understood the importance of detail, of history to identity and to power.
Molly’s residency with Jane Austen’s House and museum led the pair to talking about the relationship between Jane and her sister Cassandra. Their letters were a creative exploration of innermost thoughts, sometimes dangerous ideas and exchanging vulnerability as well as moments of laughter and joy. In the spirit of Jane and Cassandra, Molly and Maria began to write to each other. They exchanged memories of relationships, heartbreak, travel and the nature of art. The letters varied from talking about day to day, pets and recipes while also delving into deeper parts of being human. These letters led to a clear passion for history, the power of the pen to explore the heart and soul of what it meant to be an artist.
The pair's passion for history was clear, leading to Maria suggesting a trilogy by Sandra Gulland about Josephine Bonaparte. They wanted to focus on a figure who is misunderstood but is someone worth understanding, someone in history who truly connects us to the past because their character is so remarkable and modern. Josephine became the pair's focus and since then they have immersed themselves in her world, her mind and explored her life, trying to understand her remarkable life and finding a friend in her story.
Josephine is a historical figure in her own right, in this project we seek to show you the sides to Josephine you may not have known. History has branded her as the ‘divorcee’ or ‘difficult’ without truly understanding the power, mystique, and fun life she held. Her rich history in Martinique, to her debut in France and transformation into educated, sensual and alluring lady is a beautiful story. Before Napoleon Josephine had lived a difficult marriage, been a mother and survived the trauma of the terror, which led to her early menopause at the age of 35. Josephine is truly modern, she adapted to new cultures quickly, formed friendships with women who were not considered fit for polite society, romanced younger men after her failed marriage, she never gave up on anyone. Even when her first husband Alexandre left her, cheated, and humiliated her, she persisted and forged friendships, she created friendships with royalty and found a voice in society separate to him, she found love and romance as many women would do in France at the time. Josephine made the best of her situation, could give the appearance of wealth despite going through periods of poverty and loved her children and friends fiercely. Napoleon shared a deep bond with Josephine, in her he found stability and respect. She was an ally and trusted lover, even after Napoleon left her to marry a younger woman for the empire, they loved each other. While heartbroken, Josephine never gave up on Napoleon, she was there for him until her death.
The pair's collaboration has led to a series of drawings on Maria’s handmade paper which uses herbs and flowers. The use of flowers is a reminder of Josephine’s toilette rituals and her passion for keeping a beautiful garden. Molly created a series of drawings on her grandmother’s Rose plates, plates which had been kept and stored for the right moment, Rose was one of Josephine’s names before Napoleon branded her as Josephine and Josephine held a passion for English roses. It seems fitting to create artwork on English China, considering Josephine’s controversial love for British roses, cottons and goods in a time France was at war with Britain. These plates and the pairs drawings explore the different sides to Josephine, her rich life and stories.
The pair have barely scratched the surface of Josephine’s world and will be exploring her further in larger works in London 2024. From immigrant to empress and beloved figure, Josephine is an intellectual force who is endlessly intriguing. Josephine was famous for holding lifelong friendships and in exploring her, the pair have forged theirs.