Saturday, May 4, 2013

Besson: a San-Claudian in Paris at the turn of the XXth century


George Besson was born on December 25 of 1882 in Saint-Claude, 


Antique copper engraved map of Saint-Claude by Aristide Michel Perrot, engraved by Pierre Antoine Tardieu for Perrot's Atlas Portatif de France (Paris, 1833)


Gaspard GOBAUT (1814-1882) Saint-Claude

where he grew up with his brother Paul.


© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

 
Picture of the Besson household in Saint-Claude, first photo by George Besson, 1890,
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

His father was a pipe manufacturer in Saint-Claude, 


George Besson's father in his overalls, Place du Pré, Saint-Claude,  
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

managing his own workshop since 1878,


Aimé Besson's workshop, photo by George Besson 
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

Aimé Besson's workshop, photo by George Besson
 © Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon



Aimé Besson's workshop, photo by George Besson
 © Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


Aimé Besson's workshop, photo by George Besson
 © Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


and reading his newspaper religiously every night...


Aimée Besson reading the paper, photo by George Besson,
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


George Besson had the soul of an artist, 

 
George Besson in his late teens,
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


perhaps there was a part of him who aspired to be Gustave Courbet, born just a few miles away in Ornans,


Gustave Courbet, self-portrait, 1849


A preliminary drawing of the Burial at Ornans, 1848, Gustave Courbet. Courbet who was born less than fifty miles from Saint-Claude, shocked the world of Fine Arts by breaking resolutely from classicism to adopt what would later be called realism, characterized by a focus on scenes from everyday life and depicted everyday characters. Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT,  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

a part that aspired to write like Victor Hugo, born in neighboring Besançon,


Victor Hugo was born February 28, 1802 in Besançon, fifty miles from Saint-Claude, under Consul Bonaparte. He evokes his birth in Autumn Leaves: "This century was two years old! Rome replaced Sparta, Already Napoleon could be seen behind Bonaparte, and of the consul, already, in many a place, the emperor's will broke through the constraining mask. It is then that in Besançon, an old Spanish town, thrown like a seed by gushing wind, was born, of Brittany and Lorraine blood, a child without color, sight or voice".            © Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

a part of him which aspired to capture life like Nadar did,


Animation of the "Revolving" self-portrait by Nadar.


In light of those aspirations, George could not remain insensitive to the skillful creation of such refined sculptures as the ones his father crafted to a growing number of delighted customers around the world.



© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon
Photo: J.-C.Duverget


His strength and interest were not to be a pipe maker but rather an ambassador for the pipe. And when he turned 22 he left Saint-Claude for Paris to sell Aimé Besson's pipes. 


A confident young man...
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

Two years later he married Adéle, a fellow san-claudian,




© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


Paris was his new home but with a booming demand for French briar pipes from around the world at the turn of the XXth century, he would often be on the road: London where most of his accounts were, but also Bruxelles, Zurich, Geneva, and large cities in France such as Lyon, Lille and Rouen.

He sold what he loved. 

 "I think about the briar pipe born in Saint claude from a root that came in 1856 from the Pyrénées forests. It quickly replaced the birch wood, too soft; the porcelain pipe, too heavy; and the fragile meerschaum pipe from the Viennese and Parisian workshops. It threatened the clay pipe of Erôme, baked close to the vineyards of l'Hermitage, the red clay pipe from Marseille, the white clay from Saint-Omer and Givet (…)the briar pipe was for the most part and for a long time as much a bowl in which to burn tobacco as it was a sculpture in honor of the army, of a famous or not so famous man, of a hero or half god. Our fathers filled with "grey" (the tobacco of choice at the time) the heads of Victor Hugo, Blanqui, Grévy, Carnot or Loubet. They seasoned ("culottaient") the winged helmet of Vercingetorix, the beard of Guillaume Tell, the bonnet of Raphael, the pampers of Bacchus, the cauldron of Ravachol; the Voltaire from Houdon was purchased by the free-thinker and the Alsacian with rubans by the supporters of Déroulède (…)"("George Besson, "J'ai du bon tabac!", Les Lettres françaises, December 28, 1961


Original photographs by George Besson
 © Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon
Photo: J.-C.Duverget


He very quickly added the pipes manufactured by the employee-owned Coopérative Vincent et Cie (later renamed société coopérative anonyme La Pipe) to his product line. 


Pierre-Henri Ponard was born on 8/8/1861 in Saint-Claude. Upon graduating from elementary school, he became an apprentice pipe turner in his father's workshop. He later worked as a pipemaker in Saint-Claude.  Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

In 1886, Ponard became a member of the Fraternelle, a food cooperative started in 1882. He was elected its administrator in 1888. In 1896, he managed to get a majority vote to revise the statutes of the Fraternelle on excess income allocation: 50% of earnings would go to Reserves (retained earnings), 30% to fund an  employee retirement plan and 20% for an employee-emergency reserve. No dividends were distributed to the shareholders. The reserves could be used to finance new business opportunities such as  pipe manufacturing operations (which were in high demand at the time). The statutes further stated that If a new majority opposed such conditions, the city had the "right and the duty"  to take control over the reserve accounts. This social organizational model gained national visibility and became known as the "Ecole de Saint-Claude". Ponard was the driving force behind the creation of the Maison du Peuple and the Société coopérative anonyme de la Pipe in 1906
Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude


The Société coopérative anonyme de la Pipe was located at 23 Rue Saint-Oyend.
"The founders of the "Pipe" had for several years the examples of Adamas, Le Diamant, and especially the Fraternelle.The latter, indeed, is a consumer cooperative, but its prosperity was at that time considerable."

"They were about thirty workers who wanted to shake the carcan of low wages and start a business and in 1906, three associates, manufacturers of pipes, aware of their intentions, offered to cede their factory. They were small proprietors, who worked themselves with the help of a few workers and whose business was pretty bad. The workers felt they had no voice. After some negotiation, the Company was duly incorporated with a capital of 78 500 francs, divided into 157 shares of 500 francs, of which 112 shares, or 56,000 francs were allocated to former owners as compensation for their contribution. The remaining shares were subscribed by the other founders. (...) 

Too cramped in the old factory, the Company rented at first a workshop. Then in 1911, Le Diamant granted a loan of 100,000 francs payable over 30 years, mortgaged on the workshop building. After the two  major crisis in the Pipe industry in 1909 and 1914, the factory closed at the beginning of WWI for 4 months and then idled until the end of the conflict. Boom at the end of the war, with a new expansion in 1923 of modern premises. There were then a hundred members half of them women." 
According to G.Vialet, Cooperatives de production ouvrières in Saint Claude, 1925.
Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude



A proud display of some of the Cooperative's work
Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

One product he wanted to experiment with was the automobile, 


Louis Renault in his first car, 1903
 
with limited success,


  L'accident, Georges Besson en fâcheuse posture by Jean LAUNOIS
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT,  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

smoking a pipe of course,



L'accident, Georges Besson en fâcheuse posture by Jean LAUNOIS.
 Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT,  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.


to the end,


"George Besson transporté sur une civière" by Jean LAUNOIS
 Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT,  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

On more solid grounds, he counted among his clients London based H. Comoy & Co., Ltd,

 
Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude



and some of the most prestigious Paris manufacturers such as Wolf & Mathiss, 17 Rue Béranger,


Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

their successor Cawley & Henry at the same address,


Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude


and Sommer Frères, 13-15 Passage des Princes,


Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

but also many of the artists, photographers and painters who were changing the French Art Scene at the turn of the century.

Letter from George Besson to Mr. Vincent & Co in 1908: "All of our pipes from Vincent & Co. are briar of an absolutely irreproachable beauty and selection. Manufactured with extreme care, inspected by the best workers of the corporation, the Vincent & Co. pipes are today adopted by all the real smokers for the perfection of the material, by people with taste and the best artists for the beauty and the originality of their shapes. The V & C pipes have most of all a unique cachet of elegance and novelty. We transcribe here some brief excerpts of letters from the best men of this time, testimonies to our manufacturing and work ethics (...) Archives de la Maison du Peuple de Saint-Claude

In 1908 he asked Van Dongen to paint a portrait of Adèle,


Adèle posing for Van Dongen, Photo by George Besson 
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon


Adèle Besson by Van Dongen, 1908, Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.



Van Dongen in front of his portrait of Adèle Besson, Photo by George Besson 
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

Bonnard, here in a self-portrait, 


Pierre Bonnard. Self-Portrait. c. 1889. Tempera on canvas. 21.5 x 15.8 cm. Private collection.

and in a photograph dated 1906,

Pierre Bonnard smoking his pipe in the gardens of Grand-Lemps ca 1906. Via Arago


made the portrait of George Besson in 1909,


Portrait de George Besson - 1909 
Huile sur toile H. 75 cm ; L. 53 cm 
(Première commande de George Besson à Pierre Bonnard) 
Signé en haut à droite : Bonnard  
Inv. AM 4224 P (3)  Da. 970.1.18  Cliché Charles CHOFFET 
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

and would later paint two of Besson's favorite parisian neighborhood scenes,


La place Clichy - 1912 
Huile sur toile H. 138 cm ; L. 203 cm 
Signé en bas à gauche :  Bonnard 
Inv. AM 4224 P (22) Da. 970.1.19 Cliché Charles CHOFFET
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

Le café du Petit Poucet - 1928 
Huile sur toile   H. 140 cm ; L. 206 cm  
Inv. AM 4224 P (21 b)  Da. 970.1.22 Cliché Charles CHOFFET
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

In 1917 and 1918 Matisse painted two portraits of George,


Portrait de George Besson - 1918  
Huile sur bois  H. 14 cm ; L.8 cm  
Inv. AM 4224 P (9) Da. 970.1.74 Cliché Charles CHOFFET
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

and in 1919 he completed La Fenêtre ouverte à Nice for Besson,


Henri Matisse in his apartment in Nice ca 1919

 
La fenêtre ouverte à Nice by Matisse, 1919.  Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) 
©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

giving him an Autoportrait à la pipe as a present,


Autoportrait à la pipe  - 1919   
Plume et encre de Chine sur papier  H. 37 cm ; L. 27 cm
Signé daté et dédicacé en bas : à George Besson cordialement. Henri Matisse 1919
Inv.  AM 2921  D (36) D. 4445 - cliché Pierre GUENAT  
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT,  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

In 1918, despite the arthritis that crippled his hands, Pierre-Auguste Renoir drew a portrait of Adèle aux Collettes,


Portrait d'Adèle Besson - 1918
Huile sur toile H. 41 cm ; L. 37 cm
Signé daté en haut à droite : Renoir 1918
Inv. AM 4224 P (17) Da. 970.1.97 Cliché Charles CHOFFET 
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Charles CHOFFET-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

Over the years Besson continued to smoke a pipe, alone, with friends,


© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

with the rest of the world.


"Saint-Claude enfume le Globe",
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon
Photo: J.-C.Duverget


adding to his collection of paintings,



George Besson, by Jacqueline BRET-ANDRE, 1969
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

including a landscape very close to his heart.


Guy BARDONE 
né à Saint-Claude (Jura), 1927 
Le Chabot gris (Jura) - 1960 
Huile sur isorel  H. 53 cm ; L. 79,5 cm 
Inv. AM 4224 P (33) Da. 970.1.17  Cliché Pierre GUENAT - 20 février 2009 
Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne/ Dépôt à Besançon, Musée des beaux-arts et d’archéologie (Collection G. et A. Besson) ©Centre Pompidou, Paris / Musée national d’art moderne / cliché Pierre GUENAT-  Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.

Saint-Claude, postcard, 1905


They covered the walls of his Paris apartment,


© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon

and later would adorn the walls of the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie in Besançon and of the Albert Andre Museum in Bagnols-sur-Cèze.


Ceci n'est pas George Besson avec une pipe...
Photo credit: Roger Grivet, Genève
© Bibliothèque Municipale de Besançon