Lucie van Diest

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Par Stéphane-Jacques Addade



15 december 2006.



 Jacques-Emile Blanche. Portrait of Lucie van Diest painted in the yellow room in Offranville in 1919The Piasa company auctioned a painting, number 153 in the catalogue, by Jacques-Emile Blanche, presented by Mr Thierry Picard and described in the catalogue as follows:


Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861 - 1942)
Femme assise dans un intérieur (Woman sitting indoors)

Oil on canvas,
signed and dated on the bottom right-hand side.
160 x 113 cm


Provenance: Estate of Mr and Mrs X.




In this wording, this is at the very least succinct – yet consensual! – without any note whatsoever, the expert didn't believe it necessary to indicate that the date which appears on this large painting is 1919, nor even that the latter is written, beneath the signature, in Offranville



Signature, date and situation of Lucie van Diest’s portrait


Mr François Lorenceau, a renowned expert who was also in attendance during this sale, and who was a founder member of a Jacques-Emile Blanche committee which, it is true, is no longer talked about today, also doesn't appear to recognise the very famous and much depicted Salon jaune (Yellow room) interior of the Manoir du Tôt, which was the painter's house in Offranville. How can this be explained when the site of the Brame and Lorenceau gallery, which formerly played host to the ephemeral committee in its Boulevard Malesherbes premises, indicates in its "Histoire de l'Art: études et recherches" (History of Art: studies and research) section, that is has "considerable archives" the likes of which "enable the Art History team to carry out research which supports the expert's report and authentication"...


Yet the sole mention of "Offranville 1919" would have enabled Mr Thierry Picard and Mr François Lorenceau, to identify this anonymous "femme assise" (woman sitting)... Indeed part of the correspondence from Jacques-Emile Blanche is published today... and is therefore accessible to all!


Now, in a letter to Jean Cocteau dated 11 September 1919(1) and sent to Offranville itself – which he visited in August that same year for the inauguration of his Mémorial and where he was to stay until November - Jacques-Emile Blanche wrote:

"... A woman came from Paris, in her Rolls-Royce to pose"

And in another missive, again written from Offranville, but this time addressed to André Gide and dated 13 November 1919 (2), he explains:

"... I intend to go and vote on Sunday and in this lady's car on Saturday, I'll carry the portrait I painted here of Mrs Van Diest – a highly comical nouveau riche lady; she called to say that "Circumstances permitting" she'll send out her mechanic tomorrow... but that the unrest in her husband's factories means that you can be "certain of nothing"....".

Lucie Marie Augustine Adolphine Hicguet, born in Hautmont, near Maubeuge, on 14 September 1889, was what was traditionally referred to in the North, not without a certain degree of colourfulness, a "factory chimney". She was the daughter of ironmasters, with her father, Vital Hicguet (1858 - 1923), an administrator and President of a number of metallurgic companies, and her mother, born Augusta Géhu, herself an heiress to Hautmont iron craftsmen.


Jacques-Emile Blanche painting the portrait of Francis Poulenc in the yellow room in Offranville in July 1920

"I was born with the Eiffel Tower, Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Hitler!" she was used to declaring, not forgetting Jean Cocteau in this ragbag, who was also born that same year...


On 4 January 1908 she married Louis Van Diest, a student of the École Centrale, himself a master of engineering, and heir to the manufacturers of Hautmont. The young couple now split their time living in the Sambre valley, where Louis van Diest managed La Société des Boulonneries et Ferronneries d'Hautmont, and their Parisian flat at 152, avenue des Champs-Elysées.


Incredibly beautiful and of a cheerful nature, for Lucie van Diest everything was an excuse to party. This was particularly true when it was her birthday, which she always celebrated at the Bergue hotel in Geneva, without fail, after getting into the habit whilst her husband attended the League of Nations meetings there with the French delegation alongside Aristide Briand. However, as a one-off for her thirtieth birthday, she opted instead to pose for Jacques-Emile Blanche. She decided on impulse, probably encouraged by her husband, who on 12 July 1919 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour due largely to his "war manufacturing", which boosted his wealth somewhat... Jacques-Emile Blanche, who recalled in his letter to André Gide "a very comical nouveau riche", knew what he was talking about!


As a result, Lucie van Diest presented herself on 11 September 1919, arrived on 13 September, and posed on 14 September, the day of her birthday... without waiting for Jacques-Emile Blanche to return to his house in Auteuil...


According to the model's great-niece, who I'd like to thank here for the information she kindly supplied me with about her great-aunt, the Van Diest's were very close to the poet and novelist Pierre Loÿs (1870 - 1925), whom Jacques-Emile Blanche painted two portraits of in 1893, but it was the poet André Lebey (1877 - 1938), also a close friend of the couple, and the painter, who gave her his name as a reference...


Moreover, in 1920, the year after Jacques-Emile Blanche painted Lucie van Diest's portrait, he also did a large painting in this same Salon jaune (yellow room) in the Manoir du Tôt in Offranville, of André Lebey et sa fille (André Lebey and his daughter), which is kept today in the Museum of Fine Arts in Rouen...


(1) «Jean Cocteau Jacques-Emile Blanche  Correspondance» Editions de La Table Ronde 1993 page 149. (↑)
(2) «Cahiers André Gide 8 Correspondance André - Gide Jacques-Emile Blanche 1892 1939». Editions Gallimard 1979 pages 242 et 243. (↑)