Obituary: Francine Weisweiller ; Eccentric Society Hostess Who Became Artistic and Financial Supporter to Jean Cocteau
Kirkup, James, The Independent (London, England)
VISITORS TO Jean Cocteau's house at Milly-la-Foret can see a photograph of his writing desk adorned by photographs of certain of his dearest friends and lovers - Raymond Radiguet, Jean Marais and Edouard Dermithe among the latter. Accompanying them are Jean-Paul Sartre, Orson Welles, Pablo Picasso, Marlene Dietrich, a bust of Byron, a clutch of banderillas, and a painting of the radiantly beautiful Francine Weisweiller (nee Worms).
This vividly eccentric society hostess was the wife of an American millionaire, Alexander ("Alec") Weisweiller, who owned a stable of thoroughbred racing horses. Francine as a girl had been introduced to him by her cousin Nicole de Rothschild, who, under the stage name of Nicole Stephane, was to be engaged (unpaid) by Jean- Pierre Melville to play Elizabeth in the 1949 film version of Cocteau's highly successful play Les Enfants terribles. She was chosen partly because she was inexpensive, partly because of her strong physical resemblance to Edouard Dermithe, who played her brother.
Francine Weisweiller managed to persuade her reluctant husband to allow Cocteau to shoot scenes from the film in their vast apartment on the Place des Etats-Unis in Paris. She also succeeded in inveigling him into the financing of the film.
It was the beginning of an almost lifelong, almost familial companionship between Cocteau and his various friends and lovers, chief of whom at that period was Dermithe, his former gardener, whom Cocteau at the age of 60 adopted as his son.
Art historians enthuse over the frescoes Weisweiller commissioned Cocteau to paint in 1950 for her luxurious Villa Santo Sospir at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Weisweiller originally wanted him to paint only the doors of her residence, but Cocteau fell victim to the artistic impulse that Henri Matisse defined thus: "Once you start decorating one wall, the three others follow automatically." Weisweiller indulged him, and soon almost the whole place was one luminous fresco. It is dedicated to Francine Weisweiller in Cocteau's only colour film, La Villa Santo Sospir (1951), a kind of fake-amateur "home movie" short feature about daily life and love at Weisweiller's home - and at her expense.
Cocteau had a subtle gift for attracting aristocratic and wealthy Maecenases such as the Comte de Noailles, who financed in 1930 his first experimental film, Le Sang d'un poete (The Blood of a Poet). But Weisweiller was much more to Cocteau than an inexhaustible fount of hard cash. Her love for him was almost maternal, and it extended to his mostly gay friends including "Doudou", their affectionate nickname for the superbly handsome Edouard Dermithe. So Weisweiller, delighted with the decorations to her villa, got commissions for Cocteau in 1956 to decorate ("tattoo" was her term) the Chapelle Saint-Pierre at Villefranche-sur-Mer, a task interrupted only by a trip to Oxford University to have bestowed upon him an honorary doctoral degree - a great social occasion attended by Weisweiller and friends. (He had already been received as an Academician by the Academie Francaise in 1955: Weisweiller paid for his gorgeous green- embroidered investment uniform and elaborately scabbarded sword.)
She encouraged his graphic work throughout the 1950s, and got him commissions: …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Francine Weisweiller ; Eccentric Society Hostess Who Became Artistic and Financial Supporter to Jean Cocteau. Contributors: Kirkup, James - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 22, 2003. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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