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Aurélie Nemours (1910–2005) and Jacques Villeret (1951–2005)

What is it about deaths that they come in groups? Two renowned sopranos have recently passed (Renata Tebaldi and Victoria de Los Angeles), a television host, not to mention some great American artists (Agnes Martin and Anne Truitt), and now I am reading the tributes from France for two other artistic figures in that country who have signed their final works. Geometric painter Aurélie Nemours (née Marcelle Baron), the grande dame of French abstract artists (see my post from June 21, 2004), died on January 26, at the age of 94. An article (Aurélie Nemours est décédée, January 28) from France 2 Cultural News reports:

For 50 years, she tirelessly explored the same themes, focusing on symmetries, asymmetries, squares, rectangles, and lines. Often with black and white, which she knew how to render like velvet (Demeures) and which she made vibrate with contrasts. But she always alternated work in black and white with work in color. Bright colors, reds and apple greens, vibrate while other colors, violet and gray, were declined in several tones, until they melted into black. "A painting has to burn, and that's all," she used to say. "Before form, there is rhythm, whose number is the secret," Aurélie Nemours also used to say. In the series Rythme du millimètre (1977–1982), she pushed the vibration of black and white to the extreme, in fine lines or in squares. For L'innombrable [The innumerable], the culmination of this work, she worked for almost a year on 17,000 squares.
Although she stopped painting in 1992, the article continues, one of her final and favorite projects came to completion just before she died. Alignement pour le 21e siècle (Alignment for the 21st century, begun in the 1980s) is a group of 72 columns in blond granite, each 4.5 meters (14.76 feet) tall. It will be installed on the Beauregard site near the University of Rennes. Since the site is in Brittany, I imagine that it is a minimalistic updating of the famous menhir alignments, such as the large one at Carnac. According to an article (L'alignement qui fait grincer des dents, April 22, 2004) by Constance Rondet for Le Point, the cost of that public sculpture, 1.6 million € (US$2.1 million) has made some of the locals grumble. It shouldn't, as the article explains, because Nemours herself not only received no payment for it, she gave the French government and the museum in Rennes many of her artworks in return for funding of this project. I can't find any images of Alignement, but I'll keep my eye out for any news about it.

Other tributes I have seen are by Hervé Gauville (Aurélie Nemours, point à la ligne, January 28) for Libération and Geneviève Breerette (Aurélie Nemours, peintre, January 29) for Le Monde. Probably the last interview with Nemours, conducted in November 2004, was just published by Jean-Jacques Gay (Aurélie Nemours, l'art comme ultime espoir [Aurélie Nemours, art as ultimate hope], January 28) on the Web site She was born in Paris and had a difficult childhood. Her father died when she was only 2 years old, and at 8 she was raised in the care of nuns in Passy. What she called an education "founded on discipline, the practice of silence, and meditation" led her to three years of study at the Ecole du Louvre and the pursuit of higher studies in mathematics, Latin, theology, astronomy, and philosophy. She did not begin to study art until the 1940s, working under Paul Colin, André Lhote, and Fernand Léger. What an amazing life.

Also, French comic actor Jacques Villeret died suddenly last Friday, January 28, at the age of 53. He was the ultimate sad sack, most notably as the hapless François Pignon in Francis Veber's Le Dîner de Cons (1998). Tributes include Antoine de Baecque (Villeret quitte la table, January 29) for Libération, Thomas Sotinel (Jacques Villeret est mort, January 30) for Le Monde, and many others. President Jacques Chirac honored him for the sincerity in his humor. Well said. He is our hero in Le Dîner de Cons because, although he was a jackass obsessed with match building projects, he meant everything he said.

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