Death of Pierre Soulages: why you will not find in Sète, where the artist lived, neither canvas nor museum in his name

The funeral of Pierre Soulages takes place this Friday, November 4 at the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. Sète, where the master of Outrenoir lived since the 1960s, has no paintings and no museum in his name. Maïthé Vallès-Bled, the director of the Paul-Valéry museum from 2010 to 2021, rubbed shoulders with the great painter and looks back on this episode.

Chief heritage curator and director of the Paul-Valéry museum from 2010 to 2021, Maïthé Vallès-Bled was, by her profession, close to Pierre Soulages, whom she went to visit several times. The master of Outrenoir, who died on October 26 at the age of 102, had lived in Sète on the slopes of Mont Saint-Clair since the sixties. In October 1942, it was at the Saint-Louis church that he married Colette, a Sétoise student at the Beaux-Arts. It was midnight and the newlyweds were dressed in black… Despite this strong link with his adopted city, there are no paintings by Pierre Soulages in the Paul-Valéry museum and it is Rodez, his city of birth. , which houses its museum. Was there a missed meeting with Sète?

A considerable break

“In the 1980s, there was a project to create a Soulages museum in Sète. Pierre had shown me the plans the first time I went to his house, remembers Maïthé Vallès-Bled. This project for which he was enthusiastic had been suddenly abandoned by the City of Sète. On the site where this museum was planned, on the slopes of Mont Saint-Clair, on the site of the old quarry, dwellings have been built. This created a considerable rift between Pierre Soulages, his wife Colette and the City. As he explained to me, there were no clear reasons for him. This deeply hurt them because they considered that there had been a breach of a commitment. For his part, the former mayor, Yves Marchand, declared in 2014 in our columns: “It’s one of the biggest disappointments of my life. A big failure…”

Subsequently, the Fabre museum, following its rehabilitation, devoted a space to Pierre Soulages. “It might not have happened that way if there had been a Soulages museum in Sète. Something important has been missed.” On May 30, 2014, the Soulages museum opens in Rodez. “It’s totally separate from what could or could not happen in Sète. It was his city of birth and it was self-evident.”

Pierre Soulages was very attached to Sète where he had, in addition to his dwelling house, his studio. “In the living room, there was a large bay window opening onto a terrace overlooking the sea before which extends a large wooded area. He had the canopy maintained so that the height of the trees never obscured the view. We had under my eyes a Cézanian construction: in the foreground, the canopy then the sea and, finally, the sky. I remember an Outrenoir polyptych attached to a wall in the living room facing the sea. Between this work and the sea ​​an extraordinary game of mirrors. Would the Outrenoir region have been born like this if the painter’s studio had not faced the Mediterranean?

“I was convinced that he would rest here”

Following what she calls “a failure”the director of the Paul-Valéry museum then became an ambassador for the new municipality headed by François Commeinhes. “It was very difficult for the City and for me, after what had happened 30 years earlier. Once again, the wound was immense. So I offered him to think about the future of his house as a museum -artist’s house. The City wanted it. Things didn’t happen. The last time I saw him was before confinement. He said to me: “I would like us to talk again of your idea. We should see.” And then, we didn’t see each other again. He received very little, he protected himself. He was someone very human in his exchanges, filled with great simplicity. spoke several times of his tomb in the marine cemetery where he wanted to be buried. I was sure that he would rest here.”

Today, the painter’s house is listed in the inventory of historical monuments. For the moment, it is not classified. Will it one day be an artist’s house open to the public? “I hope with all my might that she will be part of a project that will protect her identity permanently” concludes Maïthé Vallès-Bled.

Asked, the City of Sète said it was thinking about a tribute to Pierre Soulages.

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