Rose Valland, on “the Art Front”

Coordination scientifique : Corinne Bouchoux

The exhibition at Saint-Etienne de Saint-Geoirs

Affichette de l'exposition 'Rose Valland' à Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs

Poster for the 'Rose Valland' exhibition at Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs, Le Lamobile, 1999, poster, 21 x 14 (cm), Association 'La Mémoire de Rose Valland', © Association 'La Mémoire de Rose Valland'.

In the 1990s. Danièle Delaruelle-Depraz took, with a committee of village folks, the initiative to honour Rose Valland. The widow of Xavier Depraz, a famous opera singer who retired in the village, Danièle set forth the principle of a not-for-profit association “La mémoire de Rose Valland”. Under her aegis the village folks organised an exhibition at Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs in 1999 on which occasion Mr Humbert paid tribute to Rose Valland together with Lucie Aubrac.

Thanks to a loan of documents selected by Marie Hamon (archivist at the ministère des Affaires étrangères) and to countless contributions, a homegrown but stylish scenography showed up Rose Valland’s work. The village has yet to receive public aid towards the creation of a Musée Rose Valland and hopes that a plaque will be placed at the Jeu de Paume and at the Louvre in the name of their heroine. Respected art historians such as Didier Schulmann (Curator, Centre Pompidou) also favour this posthumous acknowledgment. Several US internet sites already give her pride of place.

In the wake of this original experiment, Françoise Flamant, a retired teacher with an École du Louvre degree, also a feminist, collected interviews of village folks who knew Rose Valland. The accounts bear out Rose’s deep attachment to her village. In 2003, Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs named a square after Rose Valland.

Françoise Flamant on Rose’s trail

 “[…] A dull, gloomy village, somewhat deserted. The town centre and its simple houses still boast a few cafés, corner shops, a square, a school named after Rose.

Rose’s house, with her wheelwright father’s smithy hard by, is in a narrow lane. I enter the smithy. A dim place but everything is still in place… the anvil, the oven, the ventilation mechanism as if this man had only left the day before. Rose was born here… Life is hard her mother holds out, takes care of her. The father hangs about at his local. It pains Rose. She tears herself away from her family, this village […]. Her studies fork off; she trains to teach drawing, becomes interested in art, in beauty. She first lives out her vocation as an artist. But she gives up. The paintings I see by her […] are academic efforts […].

In 2000, we are in a Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs café, her friends have all gathered around.

 Mrs and Mr Vuillermez, the hairdresser who tells me he met Rose one month before her death. “She was a tall imposing woman, commanding, almost masculine.” Long after the war as he was doing her hair during one of her visits, she mentioned her fears. She felt threatened.

The carpenter’s son remembers her well: “she came once a year and stayed for a week at her cousin’s”. I ask whether Joyce came with her. She came but rarely.

“Rose invited us at the Forteresse, a restaurant. She was very organised. She invited her friends in three batches. Every year it was the same procedure.”

“She never talked of what she had done. She only reminisced about her childhood and the memories she had of the village.” Madeleine the tall beautiful elderly woman who sits opposite me says: ”My mother, Rose, and her cousin who ran a café met up every year and talked for hours on end.”

“I know someone In Grenoble who has kept letters from Rose and a painting she did, I believe…”

Then we go to the graveyard, to visit Rose’s grave where her parents and Joyce are also buried. We leave on our left a walnut grove, those walnut trees Rose loved so much. When living in her small Paris flat, she came to need shelves for her books. She asked the carpenter of Saint Etienne de Saint Geoirs to make these shelves from home walnut wood.

Back in the village, I look for some postcards as a keepsake. They are not well set. It is raining […].

I make my way back to Nanou’s [Danièle Delaruelle-Depraz] who has taken me in for a few days in the big house she had refitted with Xavier when he retired from the Opéra de Paris. A fine house, large, well lit. We listen to him (a record) his powerful bass fills the space, and we think of Rose…

 Nanou, is here in her armchair, her large dark eyes mesmerised, her little dog at her side. Nanou who did so much to keep Rose’s memory alive.”

 Françoise Flammant 2000 (unpublished)