Saturday, October 26, 2013

Felix Faure: French President and Pipe Connoisseur

Felix Faure was a tanner by trade. His father was a hard working cabinet maker, who saved enough money to give his son a fair education and to fit him for the purpose of business life which eventually made him Chief Executive of France.

Felix was born in Paris, January 30, 1841. His commercial education was completed by two years residence in England. On his return to France he determined to become a tanner and in order to equip himself for this business, served an apprenticeship of three years at Amboise, where at the age of 23 years, he married a daughter of M Guinot, Mayor of the town. 

Amboise, lithograph by L. Blau, ca 1870.

He established himself in the leather business in Havre where his firm Felix Faure & Co. became one of the most prosperous houses in the city.

He was elected a Municipal Councillor of Havre in 1870 and during the war with Germany was deputy Mayor of the town and helped avoid the some of the humiliations of the occupation...

Des soldats prussiens dans un laboratoire photo rouennais, en 1870

His two years in England had a marked influence upon him. He smoked a briar pipe, got up at 5 o'clock in the morning, took cold baths and went in for athletic sports. He had the anglo-saxon trick of knocking down a man who insulted him instead of going into hysterics of anger.

It is most likely between 1870 and 1874 that Felix Faure commissioned this meerschaum pipe,

Photo courtesy Arjan de Haan

for the mayor of the Havre, Ulysse Guillemard,

Photo courtesy Arjan de Haan

a fine carving of the arms of the city of Havre,

Nutrisco et extinguo

Photo courtesy Arjan de Haan

Felix Faure became president of the Third Republic of France in 1895 and over the following four years of power would engineer an alliance with Tsar Alexander III of Russia.

Early on he was a popular president, especially because of his humble beginnings as a tanner.

Standing portrait of French President Felix Faure at the Elysée Palace


Carvers from Saint-Claude would not miss the opportunity to immortalize their president, and portraits of him carved in briar soon appeared after his election,

Courtesy Private Collector

clay pipe maker Gambier soon had a model ready

and meerschaum pipe carvers from Paris jumped in.

When French artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus

Alfred Dreyfus, Vanity Fair, 1899

was wrongfully accused of treason and imprisoned on Devil’s Island, a notorious case of anti-Semitism in the army that had blown up into a political storm and threatened to bring down the government, Felix Faure called it "case closed".

Felix Faure would die in the arms of his mistress,

Photo by Claude Harris, London

at the Elysée Presidential Palace in Paris on 16 February, 1899.

"Il voulait être César, il ne fut que Pompée", George Clémenceau