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A. Huxley in Sanary 3.1

The secondary witnesses: Guy and Jean Kisling

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But there were two brothers, Jean and Guy, sons of the famous painter Moïse KislingMoise Kisling (January 22, 1891 - April 29, 1953) was a Polish painter.
Born in Kraków, Austria-Hungary, he studied at the School of Fine Arts in Kraków, where he was encouraged to go on to Paris, France, at the time, the center for artistic creativity.
In 1910, Kisling moved to Montmartre and a few years later to Montparnasse. At the outbreak of World War I he volunteered for service in the French Foreign Legion, and in 1915 he was seriously wounded in the Battle of the Somme, for which he was awarded French citizenship.
Kisling lived and worked in Montparnasse where he was part of the renowned artistic community gathered there at the time. For a short time he lived in the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre and in 1911-12 spent nearly a year at Céret. In 1913 he took a studio in Montparnasse, where he lived for the next 27 years; Jules Pascin and later Modigliani lived in the same building. He became close friends with many of his contemporaries, including Amedeo Modigliani, who painted him in 1916 (today at the Musee d'Art Moderneas). His style used in painting landscapes is similar to that of Marc Chagall, but, a master at depicting the female body, his surreal nudes and portraits earned him the widest acclaim.
Kisling volunteered for army service again in 1940. When the French Army was discharged at the time of the surrender to the Germans, Kisling who was of jewish origin went to the United States and, after exhibitions in New York and Washington, lived in California until 1946.
The largest collection of Kisling's works can be seen at the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva, Switzerland. Some of his paintings: Nu assis (Kiki de Montparnasse), Portrait de Madeleine Lebeau, Woman in a Shawl, Paysage de Sanary, Spanish Woman, Jeune femme blonde, Femme nue assise, Nu allongé
Port de Tamaris, Portrait de jeune fille brune, Buste nu couché, Woman in an Interior
Moise Kisling died in Sanary-sur-Mer on April 29, 1953.
who I hoped would remember a few things. In her account of one of the last picnics with the Huxleys, Sybille Bedford writes: ‘[…]an almost inaccessible cove beyond Le Brusc. A vanguard consisting of Maria, Renée, the two Kisling boys, tough little devils blackened by the sun, Matthew and myself, went early to bathe. Maria and the Kislings danced down a precipitous goat track, Matthew did creditably; I shut my eyes. At noon Edith WhartonEdith Newbold Jones, the daughter of wealthy parents, was born in New York in 1861. Educated at home and in Europe, she married Edward Wharton in 1885. Her first collection of short stories, The Greater Inclination, appeared in 1899. The publication of The Touchstone (1900) and the House of Mirth (1905), established her as a major novelist. 

After divorcing Edward Wharton, she moved to Paris in 1906 where she met and fell in love with Morton Fullerton. Wharton published Ethan Frome (1911) and The Custom of the Country (1913) before the outbreak of the First World War. Early in 1915 the French Red Cross asked Wharton to make a tour of some military hospitals near the Western Front to publicize the need for medical supplies. General Joseph Joffre was also persuaded to allow Wharton to visit Verdun and other battlefields. 

Wharton's articles about these visits to the frontline originally appeared in Scribner's Magazine. These were collected together and later published in the book, Fighting France (1915). The following year Wharton edited a literary anthology, The Book of the Homeless. With contributions from Laurence Binyon, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Alice Meynell, Mary Humphry Ward, W. B. Yeats and John Singer Sargeant, the book helped to raise funds for the American Hostels for Refugees and the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee. In 1916 Wharton was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for her wartime relief work. 

After the war wrote two novels about the war, The Marne (1918) and A Son at the Front (1923). Other books by Wharton include The Age of Innocence (1920) The Mother's Recompense (1925), The Children (1928) and Hudson River Bracketed (1929). A Backward Glance, a revealing autobiography, appeared in 1934. Edith Wharton died in 1937., Paul ValeryAmbroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry French poet, essayist, and critic. His greatest poem is considered La Jeune Parque (1917; “The Young Fate”), which was followed by Album de vers anciens 1890–1900 (1920) and Charmes ou poèmes (1922), containing “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Graveyard by the Sea”). He later wrote a large number of essays and occasional papers on literary topics and took a great interest in scientific discoveries…and Madame, shepherded by Aldous, were seen approaching the edge of the cliff.’

Sybille Bedford in her biography talks extensively of the relationship between Renée Kisling and Maria Huxley. Aldous did not particularly enjoy the company of his all too famous neighbour from La Plage Dorée, the Modigliani’s friend of the last moments, the rich and celebrated Montparnasse painter that was Moïse Kisling. Although a generous heart and a decent man, Kisling was too much of a show-off and a womanizer for a rather shy Huxley. On a few occasions they had dined in each other’s homes, but Aldous was not particularly attracted by the artist’s life-style. It was Kisling’s vigorous and charismatic wife Renée who kept the relation alive as Maria and Renée had meanwhile discovered that they shared a passion for plants, cats, and the outdoor life. The two were part of a group of women who socialised, meeting frequently at ‘Villa Huxley’, but only when Aldous was not present. When the Huxleys left for California in 1937, Maria as a token of friendship gave her famous red Bugatti to Renée.

It wasn’t difficult to contact Guy and Jean Kisling who had crossed the second half of the XX century in the shadow of their celebrated father, even though Jean CocteauJean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager, playwright and filmmaker. Along with other Surrealists of his generation (Jean Anouilh and René Char for example) Cocteau grappled with the "algebra" of verbal codes old and new, mise en scene language and technologies of modernism to create a paradox: a classical avant-garde. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Édith Piaf, whom he cast in one of his one act plays entitled Le Bel Indifferent in 1940, and Raymond Radiguet. Like Victor Hugo, he unsuccessfully intended his artistic work to serve a dual purpose -- to be entertaining and political. The results played out in the theatrical world of the Grands Theatres, the Boulevards and beyond during the Parisian epoque he both lived through and helped define and create. His versatile, unconventional approach and enormous output brought him international acclaim.’s epitaph to Kisling reads: ‘Il n’y avait de bonté et d’amour que chez Kisling. Dans ce Montparnasse, Kisling représentait le coeur. Nos coeurs n’ont jamais souffert d’une ombre’.*

When I introduced myself to Guy Kisling it was to ask him if he had any recollection of the Huxleys, and if he knew about the fate of the red Bugatti. He did in fact remember well the episode and after two meetings he invited me to lunch at the Kisling house, “La Baie“. Guy Kisling, the senior of the two still lived in the original family house La Baie, on a large property nestled between the coastal road and the Marseille-Toulon railway, yet offering the most beautiful view over the Bay of Bandol, and of the Cap de la Gorguette, in the past named ‘Huxley Point’ by some. The one-level villa built in 1939 and the nearby annex, which was once the studio in which Kisling had painted numerous portraits of the local beauties, still echoed of the painter’s presence.

If Guy Kisling was able to confirm that Maria offered the Bugatti to his mother, he was also able to tell me that the automobile ended in the snares of the German occupiers in 1942. He could well remember the car for he had driven her to St-Tropez without permission, only to be arrested for driving under-age and sent home between two gendarmes. That was the kind of souvenir Guy Kisling was able to recall; countless anecdotes of a spoiled brat, most of them post-war, but alas not many souvenirs of Aldous and Maria, which is understandable for they were strangers belonging to the world of adults of which he himself was not yet part. Guy Kisling had a slightly clearer recollection of Matthew because of their similar age, but most of it consisted of fishing and beach picnics, which is confirmed by biographers.

When in Paris I later visited Jean Kisling, he couldn’t tell me much more than his older brother, but he was able to show me amazing photographs of the various celebrities with whom ‘Kiki’ was acquainted during his painter’s life. Jean had himself published the Catalogue Raisonné and a biography of his father. Being one the representative of the Kisling legacy he declared himself willing to help me document a chapter which would describe the glamourous place, now mostly forgotten his parents had held in the Sanary of the 30’s, in a way similar to that of the Huxley’s.

* ‘There was only kindness and love in Kisling. In this Montparnasse, Kisling represented heart. Our hearts never suffered from ant shadow‘

Université Nancy II © Gilles Iltis 2005


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