Séraphine (Yolande Moreau) is a housekeeper, ill-treated by her employers, but she finds solace in painting naïve images of flowers, fruit, and birds, using vivid colours that she makes herself from plants and animals. Her mistress rejects the art as junk.

Séraphine sympathizes with the apparent loneliness of the German tenant Uhde (Ulrich Tukur) who is a connaisseur of art. He admires one of her tableaux and is astonished to discover that the artist is his housekeeper. He encourages her and buys some paintings.  But war in 1914 forces him to return to Germany.

Spiralling downward deeper into poverty and mental alienation, Séraphine continues to paint works that grow larger, bolder, and more colorful. Finally her bizarre behavior leads to her arrest and commital in an insane asylum, and her painting ceases.

Uhde eventually returns to France and organizes the first Naïve Art exhibition featuring work by Henri Rousseau and Séraphine. But only years later does he bother to look for her. She is miserable. He arranges for her to be given a more comfortable room, but he doesn’t speak to her and she never paints again.


Based on the true story of artist  Séraphine Louis (1864-1942) who was discovered by the German art dealer Wilhelm Uhde (1874-1947). Yolande Moreau’s fabulous portrayal of the aging housekeeper-artist is a provocative study in creativity and mental illness.

The film does not reveal the back story. The real character had been orphaned as a child and raised by nuns. The filmic Séraphine maintains a friendly relationship with religious sisters; however, the preparation of her pigments from blood and plant juices hints at an earthier, more primitive spirituality than can be found in Roman Catholicism. In a distant past, she would have been taken for a witch.

Painting was both therapeutic for her disappointments, and symptomatic of her derangement.  The film invites speculation on the nature of mental illness and the potential role of social class and poverty in pathologizing difference.  


In French with English Subtitles.

Primary Source

E1 Entertainment