Marcelle Ackein (1882 – 1952)
French orientalist painter Marcelle Ackein was born in 1882 in Algeria and spent her childhood in Algeria. An exceptionally gifted student, she simultaneously studied architecture, sculpture and painting at the Paris School of Fine Arts. Of all the prizes she won, only the Prix de Rome escaped her; her painting was perhaps too “modern” for the jury’s taste. Although obliged to teach, she managed to find time for her own work -seascapes and Breton landscapes-while determinedly pursuing a travel grant to Africa. At length awarded the Prix du Maroc in 1914 she was unable to leave France until 1920, due to the outbreak of the war.
In the course of a three month stay in Morocco, she became captivated by the old imperial cities. A painting resulting from this journey, Bergers au douar (Maroc) (Herdsmen in the Douar (Morocco) was bought by the then colonial museum (Musée National des Arts Africains et Océanien, Paris). The Amazonian Ackein soon indulged her wanderlust anew, venturing this time to Senegal, Niger, the French Sudan and Guinea.
There she depicted musicians, sailors, basket-toting women in jazzy boubous with babies on their backs, palm trees and huts. Like her Moroccan pictures, these African scenes, painted in broad blocks of shaded harmonious colours, displayed great originality. Marcelle Ackein detested the insipid in art, and maintained that it was only by being oneself that one could bring the public to accept the unusual. However, although her work was exhibited at the Orientalist Salons and the Colonial Exhibitions of 1922 and 1931, she had no gift for putting herself across, and she died virtually unknown.