n o v e m b e r 16, 2012

In the post I Wish It Was Done for the People. Notes on a Visit to Haut de Cagnes I shared my impressions of another visit to that medieval French village, whose sights and cozy streets were painted by Chaim Soutine, Felix Vallotton and many other artists who stayed there in the 1910s-1920s.

After the Second World War dozens of artists still lived and worked at Haut de Cagnes; there were no longer any luminaries of world renown among them, but the village was always throbbing with creativity.  During the war surviving German avant-garde artists who had fled Nazi Germany found refuge there; the legendary Marie Vassilieff, whose Paris studio is now the home of the Montparnasse Museum, also lived there. In the postwar years local artists (mostly foreigners) even formed their own artistic union and built an Artists’ House in the very heart of the village.

While I was taking pictures of beautiful local sights, my wife went into a local tourist office and came back with a booklet advertising exhibitions and other cultural events in Cagnes-sur-Mer and its environs. The museum of the Haut de Cagnes village advertized an exhibition of portraits by Kisling, Dufy, Picabia and others from some foundation we had not heard about and could not figure out. At the entrance to the museum we even asked if the exhibition was really there so as not to waste precious holiday time.

Walking through the exhibition, we came to a small hall the walls of which were hung up with portraits of the same woman. The portraits were of different artistic value, truth to say, but there was more than one gem among them. The hall was very different from the rest of the exhibition, but the main intrigue was this: who was that woman, whose portraits were done by Alexander Yakovlev, Leonard Foujita, Marie Laurencin, Kees van Dongen, Tamara Lempicka and many others?

 

110 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

22 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

32 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

42 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

52 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

62 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

72 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

82 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

In 1960 the cabaret singer Suzy Solidor, famous in the 1920s and 1930s – an independent libertarian woman of tremendous energy and life force – moved from Paris to Haut de Cagnes. She bought the biggest house in the city square and shortly started a cabaret in the cellar. She was accompanied by her team, including the piano player who had been her regular accompanist for 17 years, an accordionist, a guitar player, and also a chef and a secretary. Life at Haut de Cagnes took on a new color, and locals came to refer to the event as the “Solidorian Revolution” (La Révolution solidorienne). The village had attracted a lot of visitors before that, but now the center of attraction was Suzy Solidor’s house.

I will make a brief digression. Every creative personality has his/her role and niche in history. Some leave behind just a faint trace, others carve their names in stone. But there are Artists (with the capital A) who in themselves become milestones, signatures, myths, legends and symbols of decades or whole epochs. Examples readily suggest themselves: Cezanne and Van Gogh, Picasso and Cocteau. There are far more fascinating lives than we know of or can imagine. Of course, a woman who inspired hundreds (!!!) of artists to paint her portraits could not have been but an extraordinary personality.

 

This is what Suzy Sodidor was like when she burst onto the Haut de Cagne scene:

 

As one starts collecting art, one has to decide what to collect. Suzy Solidor did not think long about the theme of her collection – she chose portraits of herself and followed that choice for decades. As a result she put together a collection of 224 portraits of herself by different artists whom she knew personally and for whom she sat, among them Moise Kisling, Raoul Dufy, Leonard Foujita and many others. Any collection needs to be stored and displayed somewhere. Suzy’s decision was obvious: she owned cabarets in Paris and Haut de Cagnes, and her portraits hang from the walls and vaults of both. The impression was quite strong, of course, although I personally would not recommend keeping artworks in a wine cellar.

 

Кабаре Сюзи Солидор в О де Кань The many faces of Suzy Solidor

Suzy Solidor’s cabaret at Haut de Cagnes

 

In 1973 Suzy Solidor gifted the best 40 portraits of her collection to Haut de Cagnes on the condition that they be housed in the boudoir of the Chateau Grimaldi, so they are kept there as part of the permanent exposition of the local museum. It was those portraits that we saw; the others had been auctioned after Solidor’s death in 1983.

 

Сюзи Солидор The many faces of Suzy Solidor

Suzy Solidor

 

suzy The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

Suzy Solidor (1900-1983) was born in Saint-Malo (Brittany) on the French Atlantic coast. She was an illegitimate daughter of Baron Robert Surcouf and his maid Louise Marion. When she was six, she was adopted by Eugène Rocher, who married her mother in 1907. As she had no right to the name of her biological father, Suzy eventually chose as her pseudonym the name of a tower in Saint-Malo, Solidor (soleil d’or). She failed to get an education and at 15 started working at a confectionery factory. However, she had a knack for mechanics, learned to drive and got her driver’s license in 1917. The First World War was raging on, volunteers were accepted into the ranks, and Suzy became an ambulance driver and took her compatriots, Breton officers, to the frontline in northern France (Oise, Aisne). So, even at a tender age the girl showed herself to be brave and resolute.

After the war she worked at a shoe shop in Saint-Malo, but the prospect of such a life was not for her. Wartime friends suggested she try her luck in Paris. Her desire to become a model was supported by women with impeccable taste, among them the successful antique dealer Yvonne de Brémond d’Ars, who had a boutique on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Yvonne, who was six years older than Suzy, was so struck by the blonde beauty upon meeting her that she nearly fainted.

 

Suzy+Solidor+sudio+photo The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

Suzy for her part was fascinated by the finesse of the art world and by Yvonne’s charm. Their liaison lasted for ten years, which Suzy later referred to as “crazy”. It was at that time that she learned all the pleasures sung by Sappho, posed as a boy in sports exercises, and made a sensation at Deauville with dresses from the fashionable designers Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou and stunning swimming suits made of fishing nets.

 

fougita The many faces of Suzy Solidor

Suzy Solidor, Foujita and Yvonne de Bremon, Deauville, 1920

 

Suzy+Solidor+man ray suzy solidor 3 The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

Suzy+Solidor+solidorjpg The many faces of Suzy Solidor

 

Обнаженная Сюзи The many faces of Suzy Solidor

Nude Suzy

 

Suzy travels around Europe, eagerly studies the history of the arts, and willingly sits in the nude for famous artists, among them Jean-Gabriel Domergue in 1923, Foujita in 1927, Van Dongen in 1927, Marcel Vertès in 1929 and Marie Laurencin in 1929. She attends the numerous parties hosted by Yvonne for her gay and lesbian friends from all over Paris. At about the same time she, encouraged by Van Dongen, takes up singing; at first she entertains friends, but in July 1929 she made her first public appearance at Le Brummell cabaret in Deauville. Her low voice amazed and enticed listeners. O tempora! O mores! Suzy wins over Paris, where unusual people are the focus of attention.

In 1930 the bird flies out of the cage: Suzy leaves Yvonne for Maurice Barbezat, the wealthy owner of a company producing luxury cars. He rents a gallery for her at 29 Quai Voltaire, where she starts an antiques boutique. It becomes a meeting place of old friends. Suzy throws frequent cocktail parties, where she sings for her guests. Inspired by her friends’ support, Solidor attends Yvette Guilbert’s singing classes and takes lessons from the Opera-Comique prima Marguerite Carre.

In April 1932 Suzy opens a tea salon, “La Vie Parisienne”, next to Avenue de l’Opera and starts displaying all the pictures she has there. This is the starting point of the gallery of portraits and the series of private viewings that are to last into the 1960s. Her salon is frequented by her friends – artists, writers and journalists. In 1933 Suzy becomes the owner of a posh expensive cabaret, the watering place of all of artistic Paris. What makes her cabaret a success is the fact that previously the program catered to men’s tastes, whereas Suzy also accords attention to women…. First she adapts the lyrics of songs she performs as if they were written specially for her. Then her style becomes more poetic: she sings and reads Heinrich Heine, Francis Carco and Edmond Haraucourt. She takes to jazz and makes Latin American music a new fashion. Her habitual attire is an elegant long dress of shiny black satin.

In 1935 Suzy appears in Jean de Limur’s film La Garçonne, whose main character seems to be a carbon copy of the “flapper” Edith Piaf. In the late 1930s and in the 1940s she makes numerous recordings on the radio and gives interviews; she reaches the peak of her popularity.

Suzy had affairs with both men and women. In 1934 Joseph Kessel introduced her to the famous pilot Jean Mermoz, who died a tragic death two years later. After that she was going to marry her stage partner, the comic Henry Bry, but their feelings were only platonic and the plan did not materialize, although he stayed by Suzy’s side till the 1960s.

During the Nazi occupation of Paris the “La Vie Parisienne” cabaret was frequented by German officers, French nobility and British intelligence agents, where they traded news and information. The hit of those years was the famous song Lili Marleen until Goebbels banned it. And whose rendition of the song is more poignant – Marlene Dietrich’s or Suzy Solidor’s – is a matter of personal taste.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Brochure CD SUZY SOLIDOR au cabaret. Enregistrements rares et inédits 1933|1963.

Catalogue Donation Suzy Solidor, 1973. Chateau-Musée de Cagnes-sur-mer.

Michel Gaudet. La vie du Haut de Cagnes (1930-1980), la bohème ensoleillée. Mémoire directe, DEMAISTRE.