Georges FLANET :
“ Georges Flanet, a self-taught artist,
was born on May 1, 1937 in Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, a small village in
the Yvelines, north-west of Paris.
I don’t know. I think I always wanted to draw. An uncle, his
name was Aimable, on an occassional visit to Paris, would take me with
him. I can’t really remember these visits, but the importance
of them was impressed on me
I was grateful to my uncle for taking me. He encouraged me to see.
“ Regardez ! Il faut toujours regarder,
et tout regarder ! ”. Who
maybe something stuck, as much as something can in a boy of
nine.What I do remember is my first box of coloured pencils.
I was six. They were so perfect I
only looked at them and my mother, who gave them
to me, got annoyed because I
didn’t want to use them. I carried them around with me like a prize
until one day
I couldn’t find them and thought they had been stolen. Of
course, my mother
had simply taken them back because they were too valuble to waste
on somebody who would not use them. It taught me a lesson. I used up
everything after that, crayons, charcoal, water-colours, pencils, as
soon as they came into my hands, which was not often. The stuff I did
was the usual kind made by children, but it was fun and I could
draw what I wanted. I was an odd
little kid, quite lonely ; not unhappy, you understand, but
unconnected to those around me, even my sisters whom I had to look after
when my mother was busy. Drawing was the only activity where no one told
me what to do and , since we had so little time for ourselves back then,
it became my private escape. Instead of scolding me for not doing
something useful, my mother was my champion.
“ Bravo, Georges, ”
she would say, “c’est très bien.” My Father’s comment was
otherwise : “ Ça sers à quoi ?, ” and it was
he who got me apprenticed to M. Robert, the traiteur, as soon as I was
old enough at 14. Then I had even less time because we worked 12 hours a
The key word here is escape.
I was sixteen when I met Georges. I had started working in the
same shop and everyday I had occasion to see this young man. I thought
he was so handsome ! Well, things took their course and eventually he
asked to marry me. It was not as if I did not know his prospects, since
he was apprenticed in the same shop, but when you are young you cannot
imagine how much time is taken by work. And, since I was there too, we
both worked. Then, when the children came, it just seemed there was no
time for anything else. I think Georges escaped into painting as a
way to maintain his sanity. He never really talked about it, just went
off to rendezvous with a gang of Sunday painters, les Indépendants de
It happened rarely, once a month perhaps, if the weather was
fine. We would
get on our bicycles and pedal
over to where one or other of us thought we
should paint. On the banks of
the river, by the château d’Hollain, over in the
woods above Vimy - you could
still see the craters made by the shells and
bombs - anywhere would do.
None of us really knew what we were doing but
the important thing was to be
out in the fresh air. I liked the colours. We
would look at how the other
fellows were getting on and offer suggestions.
We tried to be encouraging;
it was too easy to be critical. What’s the point ?
That’s as close to art
school as I ever came. I learnt by trying things out. In
the beginning you want to be
too careful and everything ends up stiff, the
colours muddied. The colours
were so exquisetly perfect when you squeezed
them out of the tube – and
so expensive ! – it seemed a crime to muddy them
up. So that was an early
goal, how to keep the colours fresh.
I love Monet. When they had that big retrospective of his
water-lilies at the Orangerie I tried to get in, but the queues of
people were so long I decided it was better to go to Giverny and see
what he painted instead. You cannot imagine the beauty of that place.
Wherever you look is a picture and if you blink your eyes you have
another. I was 60 at the time and had gained some confidence in my
ability and so I thought I would try to paint the same scene. I am sure
the old man would have understood; after all, why make the place if not
to inspire those who follow ?
Just like that : OFF TO
GIVERNY ! TO PAINT WHAT MONET SAW !
The sheer audacity, the risk involved, is
breathtaking - until you learn that, in the same simple way, Georges had
been to Auvers-sur-Oise to paint what Van Gogh saw, to Aix to look at
the Ste. Baume from Cézanne’s studio, to Nice for the Promenade and
Dufy… the list qoes on. What is instructive is that our man does what
they did, paint in situ, not go to a museum and copy what they
It doesn’t matter if I fail. It matters to try. By nature I am
industrious so I will try many times,
health willing, to achieve and fail,
and fail sometimes to achieve. Someone made the remark that I am
uncritical of my own work, that I should ‘edit’ - I think that was
his word - my production. For me that would be like aborting a pregnancy
or infanticide because you don’t like the look of the child you have
made. All my children are precious to me and if some have more character,
a different talent, a greater dimension, only time will tell. I am happy
to have made them. Je
The turning point in Flanet’s life comes in 1989 when
he and his wife make the momentous decision to leave Lens. They had
achieved a considerable measure of economic and social succes. They
owned a flourishing business, their own house in Chemin Tassette, their
children graduated from high school. Judged by their contemporaries,
their life was on cruise control. And they abandon all of it !
Georges is 52, Thérèse 47. He
stands 5’2 " tall (1m64 ), weighs 112 lbs (51K.) and is
disconcertinghy thin, probably due to a lifelong inability to digest
certain foods. His fine grey hair hangs to his shoulders and brushes the
paint-stained smock in which he always works. He wears one of a variety
of straw hats he invariably puts on to protect himself from the elements.
(Even today, when he mostly paints in his studio, he still wears hats. )
She is also small, with curly dark red hair and granny glasses. They
both share a certain smile, offered timidly to the outside world, but
with a shared complicity when they glance at each other. It explains a
lot. They are a unit, a team. Their decision is taken jointly. The risk
is understood by both : give up security for the unknown; abandon
family and friends, the tribal safety net, for the jungle that is the
the little money they have, they set off for St.Tropez – the rest is
history; its witness, this book. Here you will find Georges Flanet’s
chosen subjects. How many hours, days, YEARS ! did
he spend anonymously toiling in these surroundings with only the
occasional glance from a passerby, looking over his shoulder at the
canvas propped on the easel in front of him as he tries to capture the
light of Provence. Was it worth it ? Did he ever regret his
decision ? Just look at his sketchbooks ! Or better :
take a look at the great series of the Café des Arts, in the Place des
Lices. The Café itself is gone now, but lives in these pictures. The
warmth of the colours, the tone of the orange glow that suffuses the
room, the exacting still lives, disproportionately large, of glasses, a
carafe, a cigarette; a group of locals playing cards, the pips legible;
the boule trophies reflected in the mirrors behind the bar; the pattern
of the tiled floor. It is Pagnol come to life, a triumph of the spirit
glowing in the lamps you think are real for all their strange shapes.
You don’t think of how it was done. Georges has made the place his own.
He is home.