Uncle Jacques and the Spätlings

Uncle Jacques and the Spätlings (Ludwig Spätling)

A word beforehand

Of course, I don’t know what my life would have been like without Jacques Riousse, but getting to know his life and thinking had a strong influence on mine. I had it good at home. My parents were mostly loving. I got on well with my five sisters. I should probably have taken school more seriously, but I got through it reasonably well and our jazz band was very important in my daily life. But the way we thought and acted in our Catholic parental home was quite narrow, from today’s perspective. But much more liberal than in many other families. Even though our house offered a lot of space and was open to many people, it was located in Duisburg-Marxloh, a mostly grey region in the Ruhr area, where you smelled and saw what you breathed in. In this light (or shadow) you can see that everything I was allowed to get to know in Jacque’s environment and through him was absorbed by me.

Everything in Jacque’s life was so different from mine. It often seemed simple, improvised, modest in terms of furnishings, clothing and food, but shone brightly in the art that surrounded him and that he created. He lived in a total work of art.

How did I get to know Jacques Riousse?

Let me expand a little on the answer to this question. In 1965, still under the impression of the terrible wars, Charles de Gaule and Konrad Adenauer were thinking about how they could turn the centuries-long enmity between France and Germany into a lasting friendship. Their idea of uniting the countries led to Franco-German friendship in 1963, sealed in the Elysée Treaty. Friendship grows best when young people from both countries are brought together. This led to the creation of a large exchange programme. I was also able to benefit from this programme. Similar families in both countries were selected in a „Club des quatre vents“ founded for this purpose. I was assigned Dominique Riousse from a family with six children (four girls, two boys) (Figure 1). There were five girls and me in my family. In order to minimise possible interpersonal difficulties, the club also paid attention to the social status of the families.

Figure 1: The Michel Riousse family and me (LS) in Sarzeau.

So in the summer of 1965, they went to Brittany, where the Michel Riousse family from Bordeaux had a holiday home on the Gulf of Morbihan, a converted old farmhouse. Michel was Jacques‘ younger brother. It was a great three weeks with the family who had given me such a warm welcome. My grandmother, Mme Mançeron, was now living in Paris. We were allowed to visit her afterwards on our way home. There was also a certain Uncle Jacques, an artist and priest, who lived and worked near Nice.

Two years later, my parents were probably so happy that I had passed my A-levels that they bought me a flight to Nice. Uncle Jacques and my exchange friend Dominique picked me up from the airport. I had never seen palm trees and breathed such subtropical air before, a different world. We then travelled by „duck“ along the moyenne and grande corniche to St. Martin de Peille. The modern chapel was visible from afar (Figures 2,3,4 [1]). It resembled a cable car station. This is where he lived and worked. Above the portal was a large sculpture in front of a fresco. The sun was shining from the blue sky, the crickets were chirping and there was a scent in the air. I was blown away.


Of course, the photos are not ideal. Electronic cameras only came later. My analogue SLR camera was difficult to focus and didn’t always transport the film correctly. I digitised the relevant slides to write this article. So sorry for the quality.

Figure 2: Chapel seen from the north
Figure 3: JR & 2CV part under the canopy of the chapel
Figure 4: The chapel from the south

The simple life in St Martin de Peille

I think that was the first time I was offered the „plat du jour“: Everything that was left over from the last meal was put into a pan, which formed a practical work of art with many others (Figure 5). A little olive oil, potatoes or rice, garlic, some ham or sausage, maybe some cheese. Not forgetting tomatoes and an egg on top, all well seasoned and ready. Delicious. For breakfast, you toasted a slice of white bread on a kind of sieve that was placed on the flame of the gas stove. If you took it down quickly enough before it burned, you could spread jam on it. Jacques liked to drink Nesquik with it. You could also make your coffee in a Nescafé or a Bialetti. The coffee grounds were then collected to grow cypress seedlings, which were planted in the ground on the Bonnelle’s property when they were big enough. The Nesquik tins were also important for collecting herbs. He used the „Herbes de Provence“ he picked himself – many of which grew on the chapel grounds – to make a tea infusion. It smelled good, tasted good after a while and was diuretic. More on this later. As he became increasingly immobile, he no longer ate the round bread, which always had to be fetched fresh from the bakery and became hard very quickly. He ate rusks. The packaging boxes also became many paintings in the same format. Only now have I got round to hanging them up, with strings on a moulding, four across, eight vertically.

Figure 6: Floor plan of his flat

The flat

I have drawn the floor plan from memory for better orientation (Figure 6). In the kitchen, I saw the „cocotte minute“, the pressure cooker, for the first time. My attitude to hygiene turned out to be exaggerated. Plates and pots were not necessarily washed, they were just wiped out with newspaper as far as possible. There was a reason for this. Most of the houses in St Martin de Peille, and there weren’t that many up there in 1967, didn’t have a sewer connection. For this reason, a „fosse septique“ was used for the wastewater, a double tank in which the wastewater first flowed into a first hermetically sealed tank with anaerobic bacteria and was then confronted with aerobic bacteria in the second tank. The somewhat cloudy, not foul-smelling aqueous liquid could then be released into nature. He always acknowledged the use of detergents and cleaning agents with the sentence: „Ne tue pas mes microbes“. Had he ever experienced a „fosse septique“ turning over?

In the kitchen, he kept the china and cutlery on an open shelf so that everything had a slight dull tarnish. More of a „blemish“ than a real hygiene problem. Nevertheless, on arrival we washed the plates, cups and glasses that we wanted to use during our stay.

Jacques had two fridges One fridge was used for cooling, the other as a kitchen cupboard. Or activated it when a lot of visitors were expected. In other words, far more people than our small family. Pots and pans hung on the wall and looked a bit like a collage (picture of pots and pans). Inside was a wire-framed mirror for the daily shave. Next to it was a small water heater. Underneath was the sink, which he also used for his morning personal hygiene. The cooker next to it, like the boiler, ran on gas. And he had a gas cylinder under the sink as a reserve.

Evening meals were always eaten together. We had plenty of time. The „plat du jour“ was always followed by fruit or cheese. He always drank a little red country wine with plenty of water. We often had tea, a very special tea.

The old „Curé de Peille“ was his inspiration. The Curé wandered through the local mountains, collecting medicinal herbs and blending them into very special teas. He made so much money with his teas that he was able to build the chapel under which Jacques had his home and studio. Jacques said that Churchill was also a customer of the „Curé“.

This tea mage inspired Jacques to dry a wide variety of herbs (rosemary, thyme and herbs we couldn’t recognise) and infuse them with hot water. He kept a whole arsenal of these herbs in yellow „Nesquik“ tins, which he stored in boxes in the „salle á manger“. A spoonful of honey was part of the „petit sannes“. I can no longer say which mixture was particularly diuretic. I think my sleep afterwards was even deeper than usual up there in the silence, if it wasn’t the diuretic mixture.

Figure 7: Dining room

I have already described the kitchen. The „salle á manger„, which you entered directly from the street, was also impressive, not least because of the size of the table, which could seat five people at each side and two at the head (Figure 7). Red square floor tiles had probably been left over so that he could build such a comfortable table for large social gatherings. There was no free space on the walls. Paintings that Jacques had probably swapped with other painters for his own hung everywhere. But also his own. I remember a depiction of Christ with a piece of bread in his hand, like a detail from a depiction of the Last Supper. Between the pictures, he had found objects from the sea, most of which he had found himself during swaps, corals, starfish, weights from fishing nets etc.. Some of these were placed in such a way that they concealed colour defects in the wall. He did not paint over the shapes of the colour defects on the ceilings, which were caused by leaks. They inspired him to create new works of art, not only in the „Salle á manger“ but in all the rooms. Leaks were a problem. I don’t think the chapel was finished, or not precisely enough. After all, it is a daring, impressive construction. The Curé de Peille was probably not able to raise enough money to finish it.

Over the years, Jacques then covered a large area above the flat, creating even more space for his sculptures and also material that could be used in artworks.

His office was small and crammed with files and books. In the early years, he mainly used it for administration, reading and telephoning. In the later years, he also moved his bed into this room and stayed there especially in the cold season, as this small room was reasonably easy to keep warm with its small oil convection heater. It could get very cold. Once, when we were only able to visit him at Easter, it was so cold that you could see your breath in front of your mouth in the flat.

When it got cooler, he also hung a large, coarsely knitted blanket decorated with ornaments he had designed in front of the large glass door of the lounge/ living room. I was very impressed by the lounge (Figure 8), where he had repurposed old car seats. He knew how to weld, so he welded a few legs under a few old car seats and the armchairs were ready. A small coffee table was created using a glass frame on which a rear window from what must have been an old Citroen was placed. A reading table with an integrated lamp was created in a similar way. A piece of translucent plastic was bent around the electric bulb and created a pleasant light in the evening. Two bed-sized seats could also fulfil their dual purpose. A gramophone was rarely used. We usually talked to each other – if our modest knowledge of French allowed it – and the music of Bach or Sidney Bechet tended to distract us. There was at least one bottle of pastis in a milk bottle basket, which was intended more for the guests than for him. In the parlour, too, all the walls were covered with pictures, not to say covered. A mobile brought movement into the light of the ceiling lamp.

Figure 8: My wife Gabi in the living room

Here, too, the water damage was the inspiration for the decoration of the ceiling. In one corner there were some stacked chairs, which were also used for masses. Sometimes it was so cold in the chapel that the mass was moved to the slightly less cold parlour. Over the years, the windows and doors did not close any better, which is why the installation of a conservatory in front of the large glass door of the parlour was also a good idea for thermal reasons (Figure 9). He had also made the glass walls of the conservatory himself and embellished them with various ornaments. He often sat here and read his newspaper. This is also where we conducted the video-recorded interviews, which are also reproduced on the homepage we set up for him.

Figure 9: Jacques in the winter garden

To the right of the door, he had his cypress nursery Seeds were germinated in a polystyrene basin. He separated the small plants and grew them in various stages in halved plastic bottles (Figure 10). Once they had reached an appropriate size, he planted them on the „Bonnelle“ property, which I will come to later. In this way, he planted a huge number of trees in the barren landscape. I have followed the changes over 20 years. The conservatory was ideal for growing them.

Figure 10: Growing cypress trees in the winter garden

From the lounge, you entered a dark corridor, from which two bedrooms of perhaps seven square metres led off to the left. We were usually accommodated in the first one (Figure 11). In addition to the narrow double bed, there was also a folding cot for our youngest, Philipp. A small bureau didn’t make the room any bigger. We also learnt to maintain reasonable personal hygiene at the small sink with cold running water. If we felt we needed a shower, we would pour a little water heated in a gas boiler into a bowl and use a separate area at the back of the studio. This could also be used as a spare kitchen. So we would put a bowl in the sink there and do a full body wash. This worked for us adults, but our children also quickly got used to it (Figure 12).

Figure 11: Gabi in the bedroom
Figure 12: Replacement kitchen and „bathroom“ with Philipp

Jacques had initially slept in the second bedroom until he made his bed in his bureau. Parallel to the bedrooms was an area without doors, separated by a plastic curtain. This is where he stored a wide variety of materials. Beds for our two girls, Julia and Caroline, could also be made up here. I’m no longer sure whether this room had another separate materials area with a window to the studio.

Opposite this area was a door leading to a haunted room. I remember that there was a large bed in the part with a flat floor, covered with a large number of mattresses and blankets, as with all beds. In the early years, he had to accommodate a lot of visitors at the same time. One part of the room showed the sloping rock, the subsoil of the chapel, which was built on a slope. A wide variety of artefacts gave this room its special character. Jacques probably always had the thought: „Who knows what I can use this for again, in a work of art.“ And he did use a lot of it.

Figure 13: The atelier

Now we reached the studio/ atelier (Figure 13). The architects had planned this area to be open-plan with a kind of atrium. However, Jacques needed a large space to work in. So he enclosed this atrium with windows. He closed off the cut-out in the roof by creating a structure that was glazed at the sides and covered with corrugated cement panels. He extended this structure to the outer wall of the chapel. He had transported a comfortable armchair there, creating a kind of high seat from which you could see into the studio on the one hand and enjoy a panoramic view of nature and watch the most beautiful sunsets on the other. Behind the armchair, he had set up a shelf where he collected his magazines such as „Paris Match“ and a Christian periodical. When GEO magazine was also available in French, we ordered him a subscription, because when he visited us, he always read the German edition with the dictionary on his knees with considerable success. He spent many hours there, if necessary with several layers of jumper and knitted hat, right into old age. We must not forget to mention that this area was only accessible from the studio using a steel ladder. No problem for him, even at the age of almost 80.

From his high seat you could also reach another storage room for sculptures and materials, which he had installed above his living area primarily to prevent water from entering, as already mentioned at the beginning of the chapter (Figure 14).

Figure 14: Another storage room for sculptures and materials, also for sealing the roof above the flat

The studio was a workshop and exhibition in one. In the centre was a steel table without a table top, which he used for electric welding. Here he always had a secure cathode connection. In the early years, he also welded with acetylene. Over time, the gas cylinders required for this were certainly too heavy to transport. He had set up a workbench near the washbasin/toilet with a large drill and a heavy angle grinder. As we often stayed with him in the summer and he didn’t take any money from us, we got into the habit of bringing power tools and other useful items with us. A small angle grinder and a hand drill made a lot of things easier to do. There were cupboards with lots of drawers under almost every window, like the ones you see in pharmacies. As well as being able to store screws, nuts, brackets etc., you could also display small sculptures, stained glass windows or arranged artefacts there. Depending on the time of day and the weather, shadows and colour reflections contributed to the overall work of art.

Figure 15: The studio with a view to the west. The mobile made of coat hangers in the ceiling opening

If you looked up into the atrium structure, you could see a mobile made of clothes hangers, which probably came from overseas suitcases (Figure 15). The loudspeakers of the stereo system also hung there, but in principle only one station was playing: „France culture“. What I remember is that in the discussions between the bright minds, nobody let the others finish. Good jazz alternating with classical music accompanied him from morning to evening. When the stereo system stopped working, we brought him a „ghetto bluster“, which allowed him to listen to France culture in his office as well.

The most interesting thing in the stairwell with steps on rough concrete were two porcelain handles connected to two bells by wire ropes. On Sundays, these were operated briefly fifteen and five minutes before mass, but this did not increase the number of people attending mass. A small sacristy measuring perhaps five square metres was located at the height of the chapel, a small room in the bell tower. Mass vestments were hung from a cross-strung rope, and opposite stood a carved cupboard, resembling an old sideboard, for storing Mass utensils, which had probably previously been used for the same purpose in another chapel. One of the most important objects was a gramophone with a loudspeaker, which transformed the chapel acoustically into a cathedral at the beginning of the mass and afterwards with the Toccata and Fugue BWV 565.

Figure 16: The chapel room

The chapel room had such good acoustics that our children often played the flute there. Even if you didn’t understand the texts of the liturgy of the Sunday mass – I have to admit that this was often the case – you never got bored, as there was plenty to see here too (Figure 16). The altar slab was placed on a piece of a bizarre tree stump. To the right and left of the altar, which had been moved forwards by the bell tower, two large windows opened out onto nature. Outside these windows, Jacques had positioned relatively large metal sculptures. Inside were two man-sized wooden sculptures of saints, probably also from the chapel just mentioned, i.e. not created by him. These sculptures had a large number of worm-like inhabitants that ate wood from the sculptures. So we put the sculptures in a rubbish bag and coated them liberally with wood preservative, then put another one over them and wrapped the whole thing „Christo-style“ with adhesive tape. However, the two Christos were not yet known at the time. Many a chapel visitor must have been very surprised. Perhaps the Christos were among them and were inspired.

Figure 17: Jacques Riousse reads Mass in the living room

If it was too cold in winter, Uncle Jacques would sometimes say mass in the living room (Figure 17).

At a height of a good two and a half metres, the architects had placed a strip of light made of different coloured plastic material in the side walls. The ledge in front of it, a kind of window sill, provided a stage for twenty to thirty sculptures made by Jacques. At the height of the last row of benches, you could walk up to a gallery. Access was barred by a door made of – I think – ten carved caskets of unknown provenance. Jacques kept a lot of sculptures up there.

It had almost become a ritual that at the end of our visit, my family would go up to the gallery and each of us could choose something to put up at home. Our children also made a good choice early on.

The gallery was separated from the chapel room by a rattan screen and decorated with a cross. In the entrance area of the chapel, there was a table with prayer books and church magazines on one side, and on the other side I seem to remember a sculpture made from an olive tree root with metal elements.

The double-door exit leads to a gravelled forecourt, which was protected by the massive roof that, as I mentioned, gave the chapel something of a cable car station. Dominique, Uncle Jacque’s nephew and my exchange friend, and I would sometimes lie down in the wide eaves at night to watch the many shooting stars of the Perseids.

Figure 18: The „Bonnelle“

After Jacques had moved into the premises under the chapel, he was not sure whether he could stay there permanently. He therefore acquired a plot of land with a ruined cottage a few kilometres away in the direction of „La Gorra“. This was located on the „Chemin de la Bonnella“. He built the „Bonnelle“ there (Figure 18 ). The stone cottage formed the centre of the „Bonnelle“. He extended the area in front of and around this cottage to create a living area. He did this by building a small wall about 40 cm high at a distance of about five metres from the walls of the cottage, into which he fixed vertical T-beams. He formed the roof with wooden beams. T-section bars were welded between the beams, which could then hold panes of glass. During my first visit in 1967, I was allowed to help cement in the panes of the upper part of the „Bonnelles“, which was built first. The floor was cemented and covered with the widely used red tiles. The lower part of the „Bonnelles“ was then built between 1968 and 1972. The interior was of course also impressive here. Directly at the entrance, to the right, there was a small area with furniture that he had welded from old car seats in the usual way; to the left, used crockery was placed in a sink, which was supplied with water from a small gas boiler. In the centre of the room, meals could be taken at a similarly large tiled table. It resembled the table in the „salle á manger“ in his flat. Behind it, the guest beds were separated by cloths. There were more beds in the little house, where the toilet and „shower“ were also installed. The fireplace, which he had made from the bonnet of a large old Citroen, was impressive. Once lit, potatoes wrapped in aluminium foil were pressed into the embers. He placed a chicken, for example, on top, clamped in a kind of grid for turning. Jacques had stuffed the chicken with rosemary and thyme freshly picked in front of the Bonnelle. I had to admit – it took some getting used to, but it was delicious.

The daily routine

Jacques always got up before us, so I can’t tell you much about his morning routine. When we got together, he was freshly washed and smelling nice despite the simple circumstances. Because of the running water and the boiler there, he did his morning ablutions in the kitchen. He was always well (wet) shaved. He wore his hair very short, shortened by himself with the help of electric clippers. As he got older, he wore a knitted cap, which he never took off all day due to the temperature.

You could always hear that he was working in the studio because, as I said, he loved the „France culture“ radio station. The discussions there were impressive, with everyone talking over everyone else. Only the cutting disc (Flex), the drill or the welding interrupted his perception of the programme. In principle, he worked all day until he retired to his „high seat“ in the evening in summer and to his office/bedroom in winter. He worked as long as it was light. If not in his studio then outside. There was always something to do on the property (Figure 19).

Figure 19: Jacques and Philipp at the planting work

When we were there, he only spoilt us with the arrival meal, after which he handed over the kitchen to my dear Gabi. She took care of the hot meals in the evening and our food in general. Unlike us, he always diluted the wine with plenty of water.

We did our shopping at the „Auchun“ supermarket in „Trinité“ just outside Nice. Or also in „La Turbie“. He also had other very inexpensive sources of supply, where he would buy food just before the expiry date.

When we were on site, we also helped plant the cypress trees he had grown for the areas around the chapel and the Bonnelle. When it was hot, these always had to be watered in the first few years.

Figure 20: Jacques preparing for a dive

In the first few years, we undertook many tours, Peille, Cole de la Madonne, St Agnes, Mont Agel, etc. We visited friends (Père Luc) or acquaintances in the „Alpe maritime“, on the coast or in Nice (Alain Coussement) – I can’t remember many names. We were also often by the sea in Cap d’Aille, in a mini bay and also at the „Point des Douaniers“, which required a little more effort for take-off and landing (Figure 20). Jacques was a good swimmer. Diving with goggles and snorkel was a passion. Even high waves didn’t bother him (Figure 21). In his flat you could find a lot of material that he had retrieved from the sea: lead weights from fishing lines, corals, starfish and much more. Everything was used in his works.

Figure 21: JR is not afraid of waves and later actually swims

Uncle Jaques and our little family

In 1971 Gabi and I got married and so in 1972, still without children, we were able to drive to St Martin de Peille together for the first time in our old squeaky Opel. There was no motorway yet, so we drove over the pass in Cuneo to the Cote d’Azur. We arrived suitably exhausted and then his house was full of visitors. We were first put to sleep in the eerie equipment room. The next day, his house was empty and his full attention was with us, perhaps a little more with Gabi than with me. He was delighted with her „Vasarely jumper“ (Figure 22) and he also mentioned Botticelli’s Venus a few times. It may well be that without my Gabi I would have had a harder time with him.

Figure 22: Gabi at the harbour in Monaco with the Vasarely jumper 1972

As soon as our Julia (1974) was fit to travel, we went back to visit Uncle Jacques. He was also kind enough to baptise her (Figure 23). In the following years, Caroline (1977) and Philipp (1979) joined them. They still talk about playing in the „wilderness“, the adventure land around the chapel (Figure 24). Our children always drew a lot and always had coloured pencils with them. They were very happy when their drawings were visible to everyone under the glass table top on our next visit. We had the feeling that Uncle Jacques was a special kind of „grandfather“ to them and that he also felt a bit like having grandchildren. The conversations between them were impressive: the children spoke German and Jacques replied in French. And you got the impression that they understood each other well.

Figure 23: Baptism of daughter Julia in 1976
Figure 24: „Wilderness“

The impression his art made on me

A brief incident shows how Jacques Riousse lived in art. On one of these tours, or rather walks, on which our children also accompanied us, his eyes were always open for material that could be transformed into a sculpture. I have already mentioned that Jacques did not use new metal for his sculptures. It must have had a „life“ before. A life that could have brought death to others, like the many exploded shells that were fired at the fortress on „Mont Agel“, east of St Martin de Peille, for example (Figure 25).

Figure 25: Warrior with pluderhose. Part of an exploded grenade can be recognised in the pluderhose

Towards the end of the war, a few Germans had barricaded themselves there and were then shot at by American warships. Now, during the aforementioned walk, we didn’t find any fired ammunition, but we did find an old rusty pan. We looked questioningly at Uncle Jacques when he took it away. He gave us the answer in the studio with his hands. Here he bent the handle over the centre of the rusted pan and created a „body“. He then clamped one side of the pan in a vice and bent first one side and then the other to form a „shell“. He welded a cogwheel, which he found in his „Inspirations“ material store, to the bending point and the sculpture already had a head. A metal plate was welded to the handle, which extended over the edge of the pan, and the „Mantelmann“ stood on a firm footing.

As I was researching the causes and treatment of imminent premature birth during my time as a clinical scientist, I once asked him if he could sculpture perinatology. I certainly didn’t hear anything for two years. By the third year, he had created a reclining woman with her arms resting loosely behind her. On her stomach, a ring stylises the uterus, from which the arms and legs of a baby protrude (Figure 26).

Figure 26: „La Perinatologie“ in the outpatient clinic of Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Klinikum Fulda 

He said that today’s perinatology, with modern procedures such as ultrasound, had solved the black box situation of pregnancy and that today’s therapies were so successful that the child had every reason to be happy and the mother could relax and enjoy the pregnancy. The sculpture stood in the gynaecological clinic of the Fulda Clinic for over twenty years until, after the clinic moved to a new building, my successor in office could no longer find the right place for the sculpture.

When you look at his sculptures, you always realise that by looking at an object, a structure, his thoughts created something new from it. This was not only the case with sculptures, but also with water stains on the ceiling and walls caused by the leaking roof, which he gave a deliberate existence with brush and paint.

In many places in the studio and flat, mobiles moved around in an environment that was rarely free of draughts. Somewhere, discs had been sawn from plastic sheets to make buttons. The waste was ideal for hanging other discs or material that he had salvaged during his dives. I had already written about the large coat hanger mobile in the studio structure. The weight of the hangers made them move slowly, almost majestically.

I never saw him painting. Most of the paintings were also created at a time when we didn’t yet know each other. Some of the pictures were concrete, some abstract and sometimes just patterns. Always well-proportioned, often with lots of details that encouraged interpretation. When asked what this was supposed to mean, he replied, as with the sculptures, that it was not good for the artist to give an object a name. Giving it a name would impair the viewer’s perception. „C’est le spectateur, qui cré.“ In this way, the spectator co-creates the sculpture, as what he sees is created in his mind and this can be something completely different from what the artist has seen.

Figure 27: Family

It should not be forgotten that Jacques Riousse had hardly any financial means at his disposal. There were also hardly any affordable canvases after the war. So he used coarse burlap in the early years. The colours were also of inferior quality. They didn’t harden properly or continuously released oil, which was clearly visible on one of our walls. We protected the wall with cling film when we rehung it. I couldn’t get enough of some of his paintings, like the last one I mentioned. It shows a nuclear family with mother, father and child (Figure 27). The three people merge into a whole. This picture also hung in the room where I stayed during my first visit to St Martin de Peille, so I always had it in front of my eyes when I fell asleep.

His influence on me

The environment

I am taking the liberty of writing a little more about myself here because I believe that a lot can be deduced about Jacques Riousse from this story. I have already told you how I felt when I arrived in Nice in 1967 at the age of 18 from Germany, where it was usually cold, and plunged into the warm, humid air. I marvelled at almost everything. Dominique’s uncle was very simply dressed, travelling in a car (2CV) that made you wonder why it was driving at all. About lunch, which didn’t consist of potatoes, sausage and gravy, as was often the case with us, but could also be a „pain bagnat“. Or on Sundays, when we were invited to the „Ferme“ in La Gorra, it could last several hours. Many different courses in the large kitchen of „Tantine“, who at the age of 80 could recite all of La Fontaine’s fables by heart. It was the height of summer. Windows and doors were always open. I had to get used to all the flies and dogs and cats running around the kitchen. It was delicious, but for my not-so-hardened gastrointestinal tract it was a strain that lasted several days.

Jacques was often visited by a M. Poussin. He was a teacher from Paris who had a small flat in Peille. I was particularly impressed by his MG Spider, in which I was once allowed to accompany him to Cannes. What an experience for me as an eighteen-year-old. In the most beautiful weather in a cabriolet, casually putting my arm and head out of the window – probably for too long – I had such an earache in the evening that I used up Jacque’s supply of aspirin. But I still think about this great trip today. It wasn’t just Jacques and his way of thinking and living, with his friends and acquaintances, that opened up moments for me that I had never experienced in my environment at the time. And I am firmly convinced that these experiences shaped my love for France, the Alpes Maritimes and the Côte d’Azur.

The idea of topping a cake with onions and olives was unbelievable to me. I was able to savour this ‚tarte d’onion‘ at a festival in a village in the hinterland, the name of which I can’t remember. I do remember a party with dancing to brass band music in Peille and good food – I think it was a 14th July party. I didn’t really have eyes for the nice French women as I was already in love with my Gabi. Back to St. Martin de Peille, we travelled cross-country through the night. Dominique knew the way and for the first time I saw lots of glowworms.

A few artists also had their studios in Peille, and I dimly remember Grothe-Mahé’s studio. Jacques had some of his paintings hanging in his flat.

His thinking

I can’t begin to adequately describe his thinking, which I understood better with increasing age and discussions with many of his repetitions. It would be too much for me to describe it all with the necessary precision. I think he was a pantheist. The infinity of the universe not only came up again and again in his sermons, it also shone through in some of his pictures and collages. For example, in a picture he gave us (Figure 28). And he revered Blaise Pascal. A booklet with his „Les Pencées“ was always within his reach.

Figure 28: The universe

I hope that his niece Anne Hajjar-Riousse and Mrs Anne Zali, who admired Jacques Riousse as a complete work of art, will contribute to the presentation of his thinking. If I can manage it, I will also add the interviews I conducted with him to his website.

What influence did he have on me through his other world? I think he has loosened a certain narrow-mindedness in me, which was certainly partly inherited. He certainly made me more tolerant, and not just in the areas of eating and sleeping. He has strengthened my courage to try things out, not only in terms of craftsmanship, but also with the possibility of failure. He had an extremely positive influence on my aesthetic sense, my feeling for proportions. He probably had an influence in many areas that I hadn’t even realised.

Jacques Riousse and the Germans

I didn’t learn much about his relationship with the Germans on my first visit, which was probably due in no small part to my limited knowledge of French. I experienced it more clearly later on, but certainly less so because I arrived in St Martin with my Gabi on my second visit. And Gaby was and is characterised by an attractive naturalness that even Uncle Jacques couldn’t help noticing. Little by little and with a growing understanding of French, I learnt from Jacques the understandable deep aversion to Germany, which had brought so much suffering to the people in two world wars. In general, he had a more differentiated view of Germany. He described a journey through Germany, probably in 1936, where he met two girls who he described as very nice, in a very positive light. As they had some of the same destinations, they cycled together for a while. On this trip, he visited Düsseldorf, Cologne and the Maria Laach monastery in the Eifel.

His time as a soldier must have been terrible. Dunkirk must have shaken him up so much that he continued to depict horrific war scenes in his paintings for many years after the end of the war (Figure 29).

Figure 29: The horrors of war

I think he was imprisoned in Stargad in West Pomerania, not far from Szczecin in Poland, in 1940. He not only spent his time there in a camp, but was also assigned to a farm. He often spoke about the farmers with great emotion. On festive days, meals were served in the otherwise unused living room. As they had not heard from their son Horazius, the same age as Jacques, who was fighting on the Eastern Front, for months, Jacques was to take his place at his father’s right hand, he, the enemy soldier.

However, as he was also deployed in other places and the situation as a whole was extremely uncertain, he always thought about escaping. But how should he orientate himself? He began to memorise the constellations with a book from the camp library. He later knew them so well that, standing on the roof of the chapel, he showed us not only the constellations but also the planets in the clear sky. On one of our visits, we brought him a telescope and he immediately showed us the moons of Jupiter. This was also an enlightenment for me, as the moons orbiting Jupiter made it possible to experience the spatiality of our solar system.

We were glad that Jacques had not realised his escape plans. He would probably not have lived. What’s more, he was able to return to France during the war in 1942 on the basis of the Geneva Convention, as he was a soldier in the medical corps.

We laughed a lot when Jacques told us that he had learnt three German words in captivity: „Raus, raus – Kartoffel – Sabotage!“

During our visits to St Martin, we went on many tours along the coast but also in the hinterland between Ventimiglia and Cannes. When he saw a destroyed road or railway bridge, he would say: „The Germans destroyed that.“ When we showed him an intact bridge, he would say: „The Germans forgot that.“

The resentment faded from year to year. The relationship also became closer and closer during his visits to Switzerland, where we lived for six years, and to Germany. Our children saw Uncle Jacques as their grandfather. It was nice to see how they understood each other, one spoke German, the other French, one heart and one soul

The goal that Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer had of bringing the two countries, which were always enemies, together through youth exchanges was probably more than achieved, at least in our families. Let us hope that the future leaders of our countries will continue to promote this value, the growing together of our two countries.

Figure 30: Vitznau -Jacques on a trip to Lake Lucerne in Switzerland

Visits to us in Switzerland and Germany

When we moved from Marburg to Zurich in 1980, I had been given a position as senior physician at the University Women’s Hospital there, Jacques was already 70 years old and naturally increasingly immobile. This gave us the idea of inviting him to visit us and to repay him a little for the opportunity to visit him in St. Martin and take a holiday. We sent him a plane or train ticket, I can’t remember exactly, and once we arrived in Zurich, we planned a week of tours around the country (Figures 30 & 31). I remember one tour in particular, as he had been to Viztnau over 40 years ago and always talked about Vitznau. And so we made our way to Lake Lucerne and travelled around it in the most beautiful sunshine. We didn’t miss out on the exhibitions at the Kunsthaus either. I can’t remember how often Jacques was in Zurich in the summer. Back in Germany, we picked him up at Düsseldorf airport in the early years.

Figure 31: Jacques in a mountain village in Switzerland

Initially, we lived in Herne, where the gynaecological clinic of the Ruhr University Bochum was located. It was here that my research focus on obstetrics and perinatology inspired him to create the sculpture „La Perinatologie“, which I described in the previous chapter. Adjacent to the backyard of our flat was an old smithy, which we were able to rent to set up a small „museum“ with Jacques‘ works that he had given us up to that point.

After my father’s death, my parents‘ house in Duisburg-Marxloh would only be occupied by my mother. It was in urgent need of repair. With the idea of investing our rent there, we moved there after the renovation work was done. I didn’t mind the daily journey between Herne and Duisburg (just under 40 kilometres), as it was compensated for by the nice place to live. Here, too, we were able to exhibit Jacques‘ works in my father’s former practice and throughout the house. Jacques continued to take up the invitations to visit us. And so we were able to show him many places of interest in the large Rhine-Ruhr region, from the Lower Rhine to Cologne.

Thinking that Jacques would have to endure Christmas alone in his cold flat under the chapel in St Martin’s, we decided to spend Christmas with him. The first few times he came to Duisburg, later to Fulda, where we picked him up from Frankfurt airport. Alain Coussement, a friend of Jacques and also active in the „Fondation des Amies de Jacques Riousse“, which he had set up in the meantime with his niece Anne Hajjar-Riousse, brought him to Nice airport each time. I think the last time he was in Fulda was in 2000. The flight and the orientation at the airport were increasingly exhausting for him. We were delighted that he still made the journey at the age of almost 90.

Together with the „Kunstverein Fulda“, we were able to organise an impressive exhibition of his works. More on this later.

Classification of his art

I have always felt it was a great pity that more people have not been able to enjoy Jacques‘ work. But a basis for this is a certain degree of recognition. Artists achieve this by selling their work, usually through a gallery. Galleries do a certain amount of publicity to generate customers. But Jacques kept saying, „je ne veux pas me mettre dans le commerce“.

Early on, I started photographing his paintings and sculptures during all our stays in St Martin de Peille. (In the meantime, I have digitised an extensive collection and created Excel spreadsheets of the works). I also conducted interviews in the eighties and nineties. They should also be included on his homepage.

During my time at the Ruhr University in Bochum, I contacted the then head of the Institute of Art History with the aim of compiling an overview of his works and life in the form of a doctoral thesis. I was already quite far along in the negotiations. Only in the end, the candidate, who also spoke French, found a much easier topic.

After my retirement, I picked up the thread of creating a permanent memorial to Jacques. A multilingual website was set up at www.jacques-riousse.de. Once I had the catalogues raisonnés more or less complete and had taken high-resolution photographs of the works in our possession, I contacted the Franco-German Foundation for Art History in Paris. They told me that this was an interesting artist whose categorisation would be worthwhile. I contacted the experts suggested there. However, the director of the Institute of Art History, Prof Dr Wolfgang Brassat, Bamberg, did not consider himself an expert on the „20th century“ art period and referred me to the director of the Institute of Art History in Erlangen, Prof Dr Hans Dickel. I had sent both of them an extensive photo book with a large number of the photos available to me. A representative selection of Jacques‘ works. Prof. Dickel wrote me his assessment: … „You can see that he has worked seriously as an artist. But my assessment does not change fundamentally. (He had given a first very negative assessment after reviewing the above-mentioned website). If you compare his sculptures welded from scrap metal with those of Julio Gonzalez and Pablo Gargallo, who did something similar after the First World War, you will probably also realise that Riousse was not an original sculptor – but a secondary one, as hard as that may sound. In painting, too, I see role models everywhere, from Georges Rouault, Wols, Dubuffet, the whole Art Brut movement, but also Fernand Leger or even Marc Chagall, Riousse followed the stylistic idiom of the 1950s and did so skilfully, but I cannot recognise in him a singular and significant artist in whose work the public would develop an interest. Competition among artists is more merciless and fiercer than in most sectors of society.“

I have looked at the examples of the artists mentioned by Prof Dickel on the Internet and can only share his assessment of the paintings, but not of the sculptures.

Odyssey of his works

In his last years in St Martin de Peille, Jacques repeatedly said that he feared that his art would be destroyed after his death due to lack of interest. Referring to his sculptures, he repeatedly said: „J’ai peur que mon art ne finisse chez le ferrailleur“, that his sculptures would end up with the scrap dealer. That’s why we decided to bring as many works as possible to Germany. Together with my sister Ruth, who made her living as a painter for a few years after studying art, we drove to St Martin in a rented lorry and tried to number and weigh all the sculptures in three days, as we didn’t want to overload the lorry. With the fully packed hire lorry, we then drove back to Duisburg, where we were staying at the time, in another two days, not without the supply line to the diesel injection system bursting. But an experienced French mechanic was able to repair the damage.

The St Elisabeth Hospital in Essen had space to store the works. I was initially promised a position there as director of the gynaecological clinic. In retrospect, I am very glad that this agreement fell through, as the corresponding position at the Fulda Clinic was much better. 1997 I took up the position.

Figure 32: Jacques‘ art in the old swimming pool in Fulda

As they didn’t want me in Essen, they didn’t want to store Jacques‘ artworks either. A lorry was hired again, the artworks were dragged from the attic of the Elisabeth Hospital, loaded and taken to the ground floor of a former nurses‘ residence in Fulda. The oeuvre didn’t stay there for long. The house we rented in Fulda was quite nice. There was also a swimming pool attached, which hadn’t worked for many years (Figure 32). But it was ideal to store the works there. The next transport.

As the house was to be sold, we not only had to find a new home for ourselves, but also for the paintings and sculptures. We found one in a small village nearby. And that’s how Jacques Riousse’s art ended up in the Rhön village of Wisselsrod. They probably stayed there for three years. In the meantime, Jacques‘ niece Anne and her husband Geniès Imbert had renovated Jacques‘ „Bonnelle“ so that it was not only possible to live there, but also to store the works (Figures 33 and 34).

Figure 33: Anne Hejjar-Riousse and Geniès Imbert at the removal

So they came back to France to the „Bonnelle“.

Figure 34: Geniès Imbert loading the trailer

The last years

After we moved to Fulda, Jacques was only able to visit us once more. Even picking him up at the huge Frankfurt airport was not easy, as we had to have him paged to find him. The noise and the hustle and bustle simply made him run off instead of waiting at the information desk. It was too much for him. During his stay with us, we had organised a large exhibition with the Fulda Art Association entitled „Schöne Bescherung“ („Beautiful Present“). The exhibition in the „Passage zum halben Mond“ was extended due to great interest and received extensive media coverage. We were able to get our son Philipp to play music at the vernissage (Figure 35). I think it was his last exhibition. The pictures and objects we had collected formed a beautiful ensemble. And the professionals from the Kunstverein had done a good job of displaying the objects.

Figure 35: Poster for the exhibition „Schöne Bescherung“ 12/1998 to 1/1999

My wife Gabi and I travelled to Nice for his 90th birthday. The birthday party took place in the restaurant (Figure 36), which was 30 metres up the road. Jacques was already very restricted, but he still lived alone in his flat under the chapel. Alain Coussement, who had set up the „Fondation des Amies de Jacques Riousse“ with Jacques‘ niece Anne, said that he had been asked repeatedly whether he would prefer to move into a retirement home. He had always refused. We also asked him several times whether he could imagine living with us. 

Abbildung 36: Jacques´90ster Geburtstag 2001 
Figure 37: 91st birthday 2002 at the Maison de retraite à Peille (JR &LS)

The following winter, Anne Hajjar-Riousse called me. He was in a bad way. He had fallen and had been lying outside the chapel in the cold for an unspecified period of time. What does Jacques do outside in winter? You have to realise that there was no rubbish collection service when he first came to St. Martin de Peille. So Jacques took care of his own rubbish. He compacted organic waste in small terraces that he arranged around the chapel. This gave him additional walkable ground. The entire ground around the chapel was very sloping. He burnt the non-biological waste, as did many in the entire region as far as Italy. We often smelled it when we approached Nice by car from Genoa.

Figure 38: Jacques’93rd birthday 2003 (?): from left: Anne Hajjar-Riousse, Julia & Gabriele Spätling, Jacques Riousse, Geniès Imbert, Philipp Spätling. In front of the „Maison de retraite à Peille“

When Jacques was found, he was unresponsive and had not regained consciousness. He was admitted to the old people’s home in Peille, initially to the infirmary, but later he was given a room like all the other residents of the home. When we visited him, he probably looked at us, they thought he recognised us too, especially the children. We were no longer able to talk to him. But we had the impression that he felt comfortable. The photo (Figure 37) was taken in the café at the retirement home. After his 90th birthday, we visited Peille once or twice more. Once we flew to Nice with our children Julia and Philipp. Here we met Anne Hajjar-Riousse and her partner Geniès Imbert (picture 93rd birthday). I remember it particularly well, because the day before the flight I got renal colic, which could only be parried with pain-relieving infusions. I used the door of the hotel wardrobe as an infusion stand after I had managed to insert the infusion needle myself.

As Anne told us, Jacques became less and less, so that he died on 4 December 2004. I was able to say goodbye to him with many people at the Peille cemetery until the compartment into which his coffin was pushed was closed.

His influence on me, on us and on our children goes beyond his death. I learnt a lot from him and think of him every day.

The courage to start something without knowing whether you will finish it, to look for solutions, to improvise, his confidence and love for people had a strong influence on my family, scientific and professional life. Even though I later learnt a lot from many other people. Jacques Riousse, Uncle Jacques, opened a door for me and I am grateful to him for that.

Ludwig Spätling                                                                                 Fulda, 15. Februar 2024

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert

fünf × eins =