Albert André in Montbéliard

May 11, 2015By Heidi EllisonDaytrips From Paris

Neglected Artist
Resurfaces in Eastern France

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“Maleck en Bleu” (1898), by Albert André. Collection Musée d’Art Sacré de Pont-Saint-Esprit. All rights reserved.

For anyone who has heard of the French city of Montbéliard, one word immediately springs to mind at the mention of its name: saucisse. Delicious, mildly spicy sausage smoked over a pinewood fire. But there is more to Montbéliard than its sausage. This thousand-year-old city in the Franche-Comté region has a long, atypical history as a Protestant enclave in a Catholic country (it became part of France in 1793) and is the historic seat of automaker Peugeot. Today, Montbéliard is making an effort to attract visitors with more than sausages and its Peugeot Museum, however. One good reason to go there this summer is the exhibition at the Musée du Château des Ducs de Würtemberg, located in the city’s imposing castle: “Albert André: Intimité d’un Peintre Réaliste.”

This is the first retrospective to be held in France of the work of André (1869-1954), a prolific and talented painter who has been more or less forgotten. During his long career, he knew everyone who was anyone on the

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“L’Exposition Manet, Nina de Callias” (1932), by Albert André. Collection Musée Albert André de Bagnols-sur-Cèze. All rights reservedFrench cultural scene, including Claude Monet, Maurice Ravel, Edouard Vuillard, Félix Valloton, Pierre Bonnard, Alfred Marquet and Auguste Renoir. He was an especially close friend of the latter, and the exhibition presents a few of his paintings of the elderly Impressionist painter working at his easel and relaxing with his family.

André, who studied at the Académie Julien in Paris, where he met Bonnard, started out as an illustrator and flirted with the Nabis and Impressionists in his youth, but he soon went his own way, absorbing influences without being identified with any particular movement and avoiding abstraction entirely, which may explain why his work was left by the wayside in the age of abstraction.

His career first took off when his painting “Lady in Blue” (1895) was noticed at the Salon des Indépendants in 1894 by the prominent art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (the subject of a recent exhibition at the Musée Luxembourg in Paris), who took him on and continued to represent him throughout his career.

Unlike many struggling artists of the day, André managed to support himself from his work to the end, painting in a realistic style mostly interior scenes that exude a feeling of domestic harmony, even though many were made while he was living in a ménage à trois with his wife Marguerite (known as “Maleck”) and his model and mistress, Jacqueline Bret-André (née Jacqueline Brétégnier), whom he eventually adopted.

Both women feature in the paintings presented in the exhibition, with the final room devoted almost exclusively to Jacqueline reading in a

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“Jacqueline Lisant, Corsage Rayé Rouge” (1935), by Albert André. Photo: Pierre Guenat

variety of poses and states of dress and undress, playing the guitar, getting a pedicure and so on.

It is thanks to Bret-André that Montbéliard’s museum has a body of works by André, many of them on permanent loan to the Musée d’Orsay. In 1969, in hopes of keeping the artist’s memory alive, she gave 50 of his paintings to the state, to be distributed to three different cities in France. Montbéliard was one of those she chose because she had spent part of her childhood in the area (André himself had no connection with the city). For a time, she was also curator of a museum in Bagnols-sur-Cèze in the South of France, now called the Musée Albert-André. She died at the age of 101 in 2006.

André was no iconoclast, but he was undeniably a talented painter whose work is well worth seeing. Among the lovelier paintings in the exhibition is “L’Abat-jour Jaune” (1954), a view of a corner of a darkened room, its walls covered in paintings, with a woman seen from the back reading at a desk, her book lit by a lamp with a glowing yellow shade.

The château where the exhibition is being

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The Château des Ducs de Würtemberg. Photo: Denis Bretey-Ville de Montbéliard

held, dramatically perched on a cliff overlooking the city, is also home to a wonderfully retro natural history museum, an archaeological gallery and a contemporary art gallery currently holding a show called “Explorations” (through August 16), which sets up clever juxtapositions between pieces from the museum’s historical and contemporary art collections, such as a beautifully detailed feather cast in metal, undated but possibly from Antiquity, and “Melek” (2011-12) a

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“Melek” (2014), by Sarkis. Photo: Pierre Guenat

stained-glass work by Sarkis depicting a winged face.

Places worth visiting in the center of the Old Town include the 17th-century Renaissance-style Temple Saint-Martin, the largest and oldest Lutheran church in France, and the quaint Museum of Art and History in the Hôtel Beurnier-Rossel, with its collection of intricate, locally made clocks, antique shop signs, women’ embroidered caps and other local textiles, naive portraits of local notables, period furnishings and especially the music boxes displayed in the attic, made in the nearby village of Sainte Suzanne, some of which are incorporated into 19th-century “musical paintings.”

For Americans and Canadians visiting in search of their roots (many of the region’s Protestants emigrated to the New World), the Tourism Office offers special two-hour tours in English.

And, of course, what would a visit to Montbéliard be without a saucisse de Montbéliard? An authentic version can be found at the butcher shop Malugani, right in the heart of the Old Town (8, avenue Général Leclerc, 25200 Montbéliard; tel.: 03 81 97 10 76).

Heidi Ellison

Musée du Château des Ducs de Würtemberg: 25200 Montbéliard. Tel.: 03 81 99 22 61. Montbéliard can be reached in just over two hours by train (TGV) from Paris’s Gare de Lyon. The Albert André exhibition continues through September 27, 2015. Admission: €5. www.montbeliard.fr

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