Julian BESSET : a long-term admirer ( November 2010 )
That evening (this was thirty years ago), we had decided to visit a young couple who we knew were into organic farming and whose address we had obtained from the headquarters of the French organic pioneering movement Nature et Progrès, for we had moved house to that area and were eager to get to know people with similar views. So, after ascertaining they were at home, we ventured to their address, near Grenoble.
We press the doorbell. A young woman with thick spectacles opens the door. Her husband and children are also there in the background. I mumble the usual greeting, but mechanically, for my attention is almost immediately caught by an extraordinary spectacle :
On the walls of this quite modest apartment, hang all sorts of framed paintings, which are I was told pastels, as if I had crossed the threshold of a local museum but a very different one than the usual dry-as-dust variety. These vivid pictures are like windows opening upon a world which we recognize immediately as having really existed, which we can easily identify as one in which we could have played our own lives, and this real world of the past was being presented us by the artist's intercessors, the family we were visiting.
« All those wonderful paintings, all so different, but all so alike, they must be by an obviously very gifted artist ! Who? » I exclaimed.
« My father painted them » the young woman replied quite simply.
Well, since that day, we have kept in touch, for such a unique legacy is now part of our inner world. Thanks to them, we have learned to know Constant Detré better, how he worked, the difficulties he faced, the way he plied his art, at a time when the art of pastel was no longer fashionable, before and during the second world war.
In a nutshell the art of Constant Detré is utter simplicity, concision, directness, make believe, but above all control of subject matter, showing tolerance of carnal lust, but not money lust. Benevolence is part of his drawing power like no other artist.
As it turns out, while I'm writing this, one of his works is above me on the wall of my study. I look up. And the young ladies who are framed there look back, aloof, but not indifferent. The one in front gazes straight ahead confidently. The one at her side, standing back a little, looks disgruntled, dissatisfied, withdrawn. Accordingly her contours are more blurred. This picture bears no title and is even unsigned, but like many other pastels from the same artist, it has such depth that it is irrelevant to know who they really were, despite the fact we know they could be named by the artist's daughter.
Julian BESSET op. cit
Official site of Painter Constant DETRÉ (www.cdetre.com )