Florence Hasard - Biography
Florence Hasard (1882 Nogent-sur-Marne, France – date and location of death unknown) was born as the only child of her unwed mother, Jeanne Hasard. Growing up under modest circumstances, Florence’s mother was a washwoman who held down various odd jobs. As a young girl, Florence accompanied her mother in her work at the local chateau. The chateau owners, Jeanne and Madeleine Smith, were artists, and this visit to the chateau had a strong impact on Florence. It happened that this place would also offer her very first session as a painter’s model, an experience that might have encouraged her to leave her hometown for nearby Paris. At the age of sixteen, Florence started modeling in Paris’ painters’ studios and modeled regularly at the Académie Colarossi and the newly founded Académie La Grande Chaumière. It was during this time in the pre-WWI Parisian art scene that Hasard had a brief encounter with “a woman from the United States, a painter, who was the most courageous traveler I ever met”. This woman is now believed to be Charlotte Partridge, the founder of the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, who had traveled to Paris to visit artists and art academies.
Paris is also where Florence met Sophie la Rosière (1867-1948), a painter who also grew up in Nogent-sur-Marne. Although Sophie was fifteen years older than Florence, the two women bonded over their obsession in the arts, became lovers, later sharing Sophie’s house and studio.
During the war, Florence trained as a nurse working at the improvised but well-operated military hospital #73. The circumstance of the war now introduced her to the cruelties of the times. The trauma from caring for wounded men in agonizing pain, often with amputated limbs, would remain with Florence for the rest of her life. Perhaps this experience caused the end of her decade-long relationship with Sophie. What is known is that she moved out of Sophie’s house by the end of the war, and back to Paris.
In 1925, the registry office in the Alsace region of France lists Florence as a resident. Then in 1927, at the age of forty-five, Florence made the farthest leap of her life, registering for immigration to the USA. After arriving in the United States, Florence made her way to Milwaukee looking for employment and also likely searching for Charlotte Partridge for connecting to the probably only person she knew in America. Indeed there are indications she may have worked occasionally as a model for Partridge’s Layton School of Art and that she had taken a position with the Milwaukee Handicraft Project, a program funded by the Works Progress Administration.
Florence privately created a new body of artwork during this time, seemingly as her first opportunity to process her experiences with WWI as a nurse. As we now look at Florence’s work – mostly paintings on insides of garments and drawings of male nudes bathed in dripping red oil-paint environments – we can trace the influence of her time in Milwaukee. Her canvas is primarily deconstructed women’s and dolls’ dresses, which may have come from discarded material that she salvaged from her work as a seamstress and her possible engagement with the Milwaukee Handicraft Project.
No trace can be found of Florence in Milwaukee after 1942. However, her legacy leaves us with many clues to her art practice, including a number of paintings, drawings, sketches, notes, and miscellaneous memorabilia. Research will continue as we hope to trace her final years.