George Desvallières is probably one of the least known painters of his time. However, in some 60 years of career, he traces a unique path in the history of French art. A path inhabited by an ardent spiritual quest that is particularly striking when one dives into his paintings inspired by the “little way” of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
But who really is George Desvallières (1861-1950), this too little known painter, friend and disciple of Gustave Moreau? Who is this artist in constant quest as much for new forms of art as for an ardent spirituality? A painter with a style that is both powerful and refined, George Desvallières surprises with his dialogue between body and soul, between the carnal and the spiritual.
Believe in the sense of the sacred
If the artist founded the Salon d’Automne in 1903 which revealed Henri Matisse, the Fauves and the new aesthetics, his conversion to the Christian faith a year later, painfully marked by the loss of his son Daniel in the battles of the First World War, pushes him to renew the sacred art.
Alongside Maurice Denis, George Desvallières trained a young generation of Christian artists advocating daring art, in the light of the Gospel. And when he made his profession of faith in the Dominican Third Order, he wanted to do nothing but speak of Christ to his contemporaries, with this deep desire that the latter, despite the atrocities of war, continue to believe in sense of the sacred. “My great-grandfather converted at the age of 43 after a long human and artistic journey. And it is with this baggage that his work, animated by his faith, touches on the meaning of sacrifice, that of the soldier who gives his life to the homeland and that of Christ who gives his life to save humanity, “explains to Aleteia Maximilien Ambroselli , art historian and great-grandson of the artist.
© Rolin Museum, Autun
A beautiful art book titled Oh take my soul, to be published in October, invites us to rediscover the “little way” of love as experienced and revealed by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux through, among others, the works of George Desvallières. The latter highlight in a striking way the most beautiful texts of the little saint of Lisieux. “This art book offers a walk through the writings of the saint. But for a real walk, all the senses had to be present. Landscapes, faces, allegories that speak to the soul and to the heart, far beyond words,” explains Aleteia Bénédicte Delelis, co-author of the book. “Hence the idea of accompanying this spiritual testament of little Thérèse with the works of artists of her time, including those of George Desvallières. »
Our Lady of Victories and Saint Therese
“My great-grandfather cultivated a real devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. It intensified during the war: like Joan of Arc, little Thérèse was very present in the trenches with the French soldiers”, continues Maximilien Ambroselli. But there is another essential link between the painter and the one who had revealed the little way of love. This is the Notre-Dame des Victoires church in Paris. “His spiritual conversion is linked to this place. This is where my great-grandfather in 1904 heard a little inner voice saying to him: Get on your knees and recite your creed. He did, then went to confession. For little Thérèse, the visit to Notre-Dame des Victoires in 1887 was also very important. It was here that she understood her vocation to enter Carmel. I think this deep connection through Notre-Dame des Victoires brought my great-grandfather much closer to Thérèse’s spirituality. The notion of a life offered to Carmel and of a life given is very present in his works”, emphasizes Maximilien Ambroselli.
make love love
Looking page by page at the painter’s paintings against the writings of the Carmelite nun, there is no doubt that he too traced his own spiritual journey there. “For anyone who sets out on the little path of love according to Thérèse, there is a path to follow, there are stages to reach… and to cross, crossings which, sometimes, little Thérèse herself calls a conversion,” writes Pierre-Marie Varennes in the preface to the book. Crossings that George Desvallières undertook with the help of his brushes guided by the hand of little Thérèse…
Discover, in pictures, the most beautiful works of George Desvallières inspired by the spirituality of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: