This traditional-looking house does not seem to have been predestined to serve as a museum of modern art, but that’s what it is.
In the 19th century, the poet Léon Deubel (1879-1913) lived in this house for part of his childhood — apparently the only part of his childhood that was at all happy or even tolerable. One of Deubel’s best-known poems is called Détresse (= distress), which is no accident since he was homeless and destitute for much of his adult life, although he also lived for a time with his friend Louis Pergaud (1882-1915).
Pergaud, who was killed as a French soldier in the First World War, is now best known as the author of the novel La guerre des boutons (The war of the buttons), published in 1912. There have been five films based on this novel, one of which I saw in Saigon on Christmas Eve 1964, a few hours after the Brinks Hotel was blown up. I don’t remember much about the film itself, but I do recall why I saw it. As I wrote at the time: “I spent the evening in a small French movie theatre, on the theory that if there was going to be a Christmas Eve terror campaign against the Americans, that’s the last place anyone would think to look.”
The artworks on display in the museum in Belfort are from the collection of Maurice Jardot (1911-2002), an art historian who for nearly forty years was the director of the Galerie Kahnweiler/Leiris in Paris. This was the gallery where Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, André Masson and many other artists had first been exhibited in the early 20th century. Jardot himself was a generation younger than most of these artists, but he seems to have known most of them and certainly amassed an impressive collection of their works.
In the 1930s, Maurice Jardot was an Inspecteur des Monuments historiques. After the Second World War he was a French army officer stationed in Germany, where he was head of the cultural department of the French military government in Baden. His main responsibility at this time was the investigation and repatriation of works of art that had been stolen in France by the Nazis. He also organized art exhibitions, including one in 1947 on “Contemporary Painting” in Freiburg. In 1949, he left the army and returned to France. In 1955, he organized a major Picasso exhibition in Paris, Hamburg, Cologne und Munich.
The museum also had several paintings by Eugène-Nestor de Kermadec (1899-1976). The next day, I saw more of his work at a retrospective exhibit at Vauban’s Tower 46, a former cannon tower which is now used for art exhibitions.
My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2020.
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