VIII – Paris and La Grisoliere

I had remade contact with my cousin Victor Coates. If Victor had business in London he stayed at the Ritz and occasionally treated me to lunch there. I was usually too overawed to be hungry. I also spent part of several Easter breaks at his flat in Paris. Alice his Alsatian housekeeper – smallish, roundish and grey – always greeted me on arrival with an omelette and a half bottle of Champagne. David the dachshund also greeted me enthusiastically. Dog memory for walks under the chestnut trees of Avenue Georges Mandel.

The Musée de l’Homme and the Musée d’Art Moderne were about ten minutes’ walk away so I had time to discover and absorb the great modern masters particularly the then less fashionable works of Switters, which were tiny delicate collages often including bus and metro tickets, also Vuillard’s interiors, Bonnard’s beautiful tender paintings and above all the cut outs of Henri Matisse. I remember finding Pollock and de Kooning rather overwhelming and noisy – Mondrian I also loved.

Victor by that time had been widowered. His friends were either highly sophisticated Parisians or equally so expats. I remember dinner party discussions about ‘Waiting For Godot’ and the then fashionable painter Bernard Buffet, whose work does not seem to have withstood the test of time. Yes I was very lucky and very privileged and did realise it at the time.

My first student summer I spent house sitting for Rudi and Ethel Kousbroek who were friends of Trix’s. They were both intellectuals and writers. Their flat was the converted, more or less, attic of an apartment building in Boulogne on the far side of the Bois. I had my trusty black bike with me. I seem to remember looking after cats. The space was large, hot and chaotic. Rudi owned the entire works of the Olympia Press, basically all the books banned in the British Isles, also the Marquis de Sade in English translation. He also had a fine collection of Marvel comics. It turned out to be a highly educational summer. Rudi made me promise that when I finally lost my virginity I would go to bed with him – a promise I kept several years later, though in fact it was not a particularly satisfactory experience for either of us.

Victor did not particularly approve of my sojourn chez Kousbroek so the next two summers I spent staying at his house in the Loire.

The deal was that I produced a decent number of good paintings or face banishment from Eden.

La Grisoliere was a substantial house on the banks of the Cher River near Amboise. It was a delightful Edwardian building in the Tudor Normandy style. It had a turret, a great hall and green ceramic dragons on the roof ridge. There was also a small very comfortable guest cottage and another for Monsieur and Madame Boucher who looked after everything including GoGo, a Great Dane, GoGo being short for Goliath. The gardens ran down to the river and there was a vegetable garden, a vineyard and runs for domestic rabbits across the main road.

Madame Boucher was a superb cook. She and Monsieur Boucher were small in stature but huge in every other way. As I was there alone in the guest cottage and looked after by the Boucher’s I learned most of what I know about cooking from Madame Boucher. Also by the end of the summer I was glowing with health which for me was unusual.

Victor sometimes, usually for Bastille Day, had house parties for his sophisticated Parisian friends. The parties were great fun, with far too much good wine and Madame Boucher’s excellent cooking. The Boucher’s were dover to Victor and I think became fond of me too.

Days were spent breakfast then paint, lunch then paint and or swim in the river then paint – supper and very tired ready for early bed. GoGo was my painting companion.

There was a beautiful pale limestone mill house reflected in its pond and surrounded by silver willows which I particularly liked. Sometimes I heard someone playing a violin very well, the sound carrying over the silvery mill pond water. I also painted my first garden paintings there as well as landscapes, apple trees and the vineyard.

The paintings can’t have been too bad as both Victor and his friends approved of them, so later did the Royal Academy.

GoGo had some kind of instinct for leading me to the best painting places. He was too big and strong for it to be the other way round, though he was a very gentle and well-tempered dog. He seemed to know what I should be doing.

PhilippaVIII – Paris and La Grisoliere