Jules Cavaillès (French - 1891-1977)
Jules Cavaillès is a genuine painter of the "joy of living".
He adores cheerful images conjuring up the pleasures of life: sea fronts, the lush countryside, naked women, flowers, shells and even large red crayfish.
He composes and recomposes this selected reality at leisure, presents it via several objects gleaned like repositories of memories, infuses this with life thanks to pure colours stroked by a soft light. The decorations of his interiors are a reflection of childhood memories imbued with a distinctive provincial Napoleon III character. These interiors are still marked by a kind of maternal warmth, an invitation to adopt an unhurried approach. His open windows are like a breath of fresh air. What can only be called theatres reflecting a leisurely way of life, they enjoin a mood of contemplation. Apart from his delicate lyrical touch and his triumphant painting feats, Jules Cavaillès manages to convey his tremendous lust for life in his paintings.
Cavaillès always managed to retain his independent stance, his enthusiastic take on life and his sensitive attitude. He would devise innovative harmonic victories and develop unusual tonal relationships to demonstrate that in spite of all the technical constraints, his paintings revealed the vitality of his poetic freedom, reaching out to the poetic dimension of the object. He liked to talk about his eagerness to see his paintings sing:
Nothing should be "inhabited" in a painting, no space should remain lifeless. Everything should conspire to enhance a painting's harmonious balance. This is what invests a painting with its vibrancy.
Jules Cavaillès was born on 20 June 1901, in Carmeaux, a little town in Tarn (France) where he spent an unruffled childhood. His academic record was poor during his time at school in Albi, but he continued to study in 1914 at Castres high school. He was 13 years old at the time. He became acquainted with some convalescent soldiers, who took a great delight in offering him some drawing classes, while extolling the virtues of the capital: Paris the only city in the world where the idea of becoming a painter could be seriously contemplated. Enthusiastic and consumed with a passion for this new fascinating subject that never failed to enthral him, he sought to persuade his parents to allow him to head for the dream city where he wanted to "make his way in life". They were adamant he should not go, so Jules returned to school. He prepared for the Crafts and SME drawing competition but failed the oral. Hence he started work in 1919 as a draughtsman with the Carmaux Mining Company. Cavaillès got to know "père Artigue" a student of Paul Laurens and a friend of Henri Martin. He convinced the young man to come and study in Paris and persuaded his parents he should be allowed to leave. This he did in 1922. Jules was accompanied by Rose, his wife, who turned out to be a tower of strength and the guardian angel in his life. This penniless couple headed for the bright lights and started their Parisian adventure. Determined to take up the career of a painter, he studied with Pierre and Paul Albert Laurens at the Julian academy. He lived with his wife at "La Rûche" (literally the beehive), the illustrious artist's residence, in the "passage Dantzig", which had offered shelter to artists such as Soutine, Modigliani, Chagall and Zadkine two years before. It was during this time that Cavaillès struck up a friendship with the young painter Limouse. The pair shared the same studio for several years and would sally forth together to visit the Louvre to marvel at and study the paintings that were still in a sketched-out form. He confessed later on:
It gave me a lot more pleasure to study the sketch of the "Descent from the cross" than to study Rubens' definitive work", as the ardour is dampened by science and pushed to extremes. What I find touching about the work is how it expresses a real spontaneous feeling.
He exhibited and sold his work for the first time in 1923. By 1925 he was starting to move away from academic traditions of painting to reach out to contemporary art forms. He soon became overwhelmed by material considerations, however: the paints and canvases were too expensive so Jules and Rose decided to open a grocer's shop, first in Choisy-le-Roi then in rue l'Abbé-Groult. He would set off every morning for the Halles market district to seek fresh supplies for the shop, then head off to the Julian Academy, before returning to his shop in the afternoon. Cavaillès decided in 1934 to take part in the competition organised by the Blumenthal Foundation for French Art and Thought. He was selected along with various other artists but was then dropped because as a shopkeeper he was thought to be too wealth-off to take part. He subsequently sold his Flotte des Indes, as he called it and carried off the prize two years later. This triumph helped to make his paintings known to a broader public. As a result of the support of Auguste Perret and Antoine Bourdelle he was asked to exhibit at the Salon des Tuileries, where work by Friesz, Gromaire, Segonzac, Vlaminck and his friends had already appeared. Raymond Escholier approached him in 1936 to ask him to form the 14th group of "Contemporary Artists" to exhibit in the Petit Palais. He was commissioned to decorate the Languedoc Pavilion during the International Exhibition in 1937. In the wake of his success he ended up being appointed to teach at the Paris National Academy of the Decorative Arts, in 1938. When war broke out, Cavaillès was assigned to the 7th corps of engineers based in Avignon, then deployed to an arms factory in Laudun, with his friend Arbus. He nonetheless continued to take part in art exhibitions in various capitals, such as Helsinki and Budapest. Instead of returning to teach in Paris in 1944, he joined the resistance in the Languedoc region with Jean Cassou. At the liberation he was appointed curator of Albi museum, until he returned to the Paris Decorative Arts Museum, for which he built up a substantial collection of work by his contemporaries. Cavaillès painted non-stop from 1946 onwards. In his Paris studio (in the rue Poissy), on his Burgundian estate in Epineuil and in his Cannes apartment, he would paint landscapes, views of harbours and still lives, while rejoicing in poetic freedom. To quote Delacroix, Jules Cavaillès' paintings are a feast for the eye. He won several prizes, exhibited in various places, renowned galleries and the 1948 Venice biennial. His paintings now appear in major collections belonging to various establishments such as the Paris City Modern Art Museum, plus art museums in Albi, Montpellier, Toulouse, Marseille, Chicago, Helsinki and Zurich.
When Jules Cavaillès died in Epineuil on 29 January 1977, he left behind not only the memory of a warm-hearted artist but also that of an epicurean. Let us end by citing his own evocative words:
I sought to create the lyricism of the dishes rather than the atmosphere of the kitchen.
Jules Cavaillès Research Center.©