Emile Chambon

Emile Chambon


Emile François Chambon was born on January 10,1905 in Geneva. He was the son of Emile-Joseph Chambon and Joséphine née Coppier. Three years after Emile, his mother gave birth to a daughter, Julia Mathilde, who would go on to assist Emile throughout her life, following and supporting him, carefully noting in her diary the agenda and activities of her illustrious brother up until his death in October 1993.

In the autumn of 1921, Chambon entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Acceptance to the school was not without difficulty, as the school’s director considered his family was insufficiently wealthy to allow him to pursue an artistic career. A first Federal grant was awarded to him that same year, and enabled him to undertake a journey to Paris with his father. This stay allowed him to become familiar with the Cubist painters, who did not, however, find favour in his eyes – apart from Roger de La Fresnaye. In Chambon’s opinion, they simply imitated the African arts without being able to render the latter’s originality. During the period covering 1925 to 1928, he worked with the painter Jean-Louis Gampert, La Fresnaye’s friend; he assisted him in his atelier, and also in the realisation of the decor for the Corsier church (Geneva).

In 1928, the award of a subsequent Federal grant enabled Chambon to undertake his second journey to Paris. This time, he stayed ten weeks, setting off to discover the Musée du Louvre. There, he executed numerous copies, essentially in the form of drawings, from Rembrandt, Rubens and Géricault. He also visited the Musée Guimet, the Petit-Palais, and the great monuments of Paris, in particular the Eglise Saint-Sulpice, where he admired the frescoes by Eugène Delacroix. Unfortunately, his stay ended more rapidly than he had intended,as his finances were in a critical state. He left behind his friends Edmond Chauvet and Jean Van Berchem, with whom he had set out on his journey, and returned to Geneva.

chambon-le-panier-dorange-oil-on-board-c1968-43.3×31.4in.jpgIn February 1931, the creation of the ‘Presence’ movement, which saw itself as a “group of action, art and philosophy”, occurred within the continuity of the Raison d’être poetry review. Chambon contributed to the Raison d’être, which was published by the group and edited at the time by Gilbert Trolliet and Jean Descoullayes. Again within the context of the review, he became a little closer to Henri Ferrare, who introduced him to the man of letters Max Jacob, in Paris. Ferrare supported Chambon with conviction, and was among the first of his unconditional admirers.

The end of the 1930s signalled a remarkable increase in the artist’s output ofpaintings. He went on to almost double his level of production compared to the beginning of the decade. This rhythm would remain steady until the end of the 1960s.

Chambon’s father died in February 1946, and his passing severely affected Emile’s health. He had always maintained a very strong relationship with his father, and would only partially recover from this loss. As he wrote to his friend Albert Chavaz, ‘Not only do I lose a father who has always supported me, but I also lose an advisor deeply interested in painting and a comrade who shared the same political ideals,’ but he assured him that he wished to carry on ‘as though he were still here’.[1]

chambon-le–indiscretoil-on-canvas-c1956-42×30.7in.jpgFrom the beginning of the 1950s, the oeuvre of the man from Carouge generated an increasingly favourable response in Switzerland; Chambon was present in a considerable number of collective exhibitions, most of which were in the German region of Switzerland and often focused on a specific subject. His name also began to appear, from time to time, on the walls of galleries abroad, mainly in Paris, where he exhibited on three occasions at the Salon de l’Art Libre at the Palais de Tokyo. The publication, in December 1957, of a first monograph on Chambon further contributed to more fully establishing his artistic reputation. The monograph was written by Edouard Muller-Moor and published by Editions Cailler in their ‘Painters and Sculptors of Yesterday and Today’ collection. In 1961, in Geneva, he met, through one of their mutual friends, the writer Louise de Vilmorin, who immediately admired the artist’s work and took a liking to him. On May 10, 1962, at De Vilmorin’s instigation, the vernissage of a major Chambon exhibition took place at the Galerie Motte. It was also she who wrote the laudatory preface in the accompanying catalogue presenting the works.

The encounter between Chambon and De Vilmorin marked the beginning of a special relationship between the two figures, and it is well known that the author of Madame de… visited the artist numerous times in his atelier. However, few traces of her visits can be found in Chambon’s oeuvre. He rarely did portraits of her, and then only as drawings. It was again thanks to De Vilmorin that Chambon would meet the American interior decorator Sarah Hunter Kelly,[2] who would purchase several of his canvases.

In March of 1963, Emile’s 81-year-old mother died. It was another ordeal for the painter who had been as close to his mother as he had been to his father. As he would say during an interview on Télévision Suisse Romande, he had always lived in great harmony with his family, and after his parents’ deaths, he and his sister Mathilde would be ‘the last survivors of the quartet’. The year 1965 firmly established the painter and his collection, for he participated in the Künstler, Sammler exhibition at Aargauer Kunsthaus, along with a new collective presentation of works by Swiss artists entitled Pittura Contemporanea Svizzera at the Villa Olma, in Italy, on the banks of Lake Como.

chambon-le-cauchemar-oil-on-board-c1950-43.3×33-in.jpgIn January 1966, a final major retrospective was organized at the Musée Rath. His canvases – seen in the light of his collections – again met with unanimous approval and art critics praised the continuity in his style, described as refined and remarkable for the subtlety of his palette. In January 1969, Louise de Vilmorin stayed in Geneva once again; the Chambons were again received in her company by Prince Aga Khan in Collonge, then, the following day they dined with her at the Richemond Hotel. This would be one of the last meetings with the writer, who died in December that same year.

From 1977 on, Chambon’s output of paintings diminished and he mainly dedicated himself to drawing. He also had a few health problems and was not able, to his great regret, to attend the vernissage of the major Courbet retrospective organised in July at the Musée d’Ornans on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the painter’s death. Two months later, however, Chambon would go to the exhibition with his sister and, when returning home, they took the opportunity to visit the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans.

In the later years of his life, Chambon’s thoughts were mainly taken up with the perpetuation of his oeuvre. The Fondation Emile Chambon officially came into being two years after Emile Chambon’s death on 28 October 1993 at Collonge-Bellerive.

Primavera Gallery would like to thank the “Fondation Emile Chambon” for providing us with this biography. ©”Fondation Emile Chambon

[1] Letter from Chambon to Chavaz, 27 February 1946, Fondation Albert Chavaz archives

[2] Letter from Alexandre de Manziarly to Emile Chambon, 22 September 1964, Fondation Emile Chambon archives

Showing the single result