Edvard Munch’s evocative lithograph, "Lady with a Brooch," has made Eva Mudocci’s face well known to generations of art lovers, but until now her fascinating story has not been told. Mudocci was also the subject of portraits by Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol. She is mentioned in studies of these artists, often in footnotes, as a stunning British violinist who was born Evangeline Hope Muddock in 1872, and in the early years of the twentieth century became Munch’s “muse” or “mistress.”
I have sometimes been asked how I came to research Mudocci's life. In fact, music—not art—was my entrée. As an amateur violinist, I was curious about other amateurs who devoted countless hours to this unforgiving instrument. My reading told me that I was in good company: Georgia O'Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich, and Henri Matisse were all passionate amateur violinists. I learned that Einstein, because of his immense fame, was able to meet (and sometimes play duets with) extraordinary violinists.
I began researching Henri Matisse's violin playing and wondered whether he had forged friendships with violinists of his day. Biographers mentioned two: the Catalan violinist Joan Massià, whose name I had encountered, and Eva Mudocci, who drew a complete blank. In 1915-16, Matisse completed several portraits of her that are now considered masterpieces. One Matisse biography described Mudocci as a noted violinist whose passionate playing provided solace to Parisian audiences during the tremulous days of the First World War.
More background on Mudocci was scarce, as I discovered when I tried to follow up on this reference. Who was Mudocci? How did she come to know both Munch and Matisse—men who lived in different countries, moved in different artistic circles, and had very different sensibilities? If she was famous enough to inspire portraits by these two giants, how did she fade so completely from view?
Digging a bit deeper, I learned that Mudocci had been a child prodigy and performed on the priceless Golden Emiliani Stradivari violin, now owned by the dazzling virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter. I learned more about Mudocci’s volatile, tender relationship with Edvard Munch. I noticed how little was said about Bella Edwards, the pianist with whom Mudocci shared her life for more than fifty years.
The more I learned, the more questions arose. Where did the name Mudocci come from? How did a middle-class girl from Brixton come to play on the Golden Emiliani violin? Who was Louis Muddock—the journalist who was identified as Mudocci’s husband in some public documents (including her death certificate), but appeared to be totally fictitious? Who was the father of Mudocci’s twins, born out of wedlock? Did their birth in Denmark in December 1908 have any connection to Edvard Munch’s seven-month confinement in a Danish psychiatric clinic that began in October of that year?
Lady with a Brooch, my biography of Mudocci, unravels all of these mysteries and many more, based on five years of research conducted in six countries. It sets into motion a fascinating cast of characters while describing daily life, cultural currents, and social mores at the crossroads of early twentieth-century music and art. I hope you enjoy it.
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