Raymond Isidore: A Dreamed Home of a Million Broken Pieces
© Ana Malnar: Raymond Isadore with his wife Adrienne
"The house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace."
- Gaston Bachelard
It was my curiosity to discover the House Picassiette- a masterpiece of naive art- that led me to Chartres, a city located about 90 km southwest of Paris, in the Centre-Val de Loire region. Touched by the story of a modest French man, Raymond Isidore, who dedicated his life into creating an amazing property entirely made of mosaics of broken ceramics and glass, I wanted to see for myself what sensations this space would reveal.
The brochure Maison Picassiette written by Paul Fuks served me as a precious material in understanding the psychological profile of Raymond Isidore. Born in Chartres on the 8th of September 1900, he was the 7th of 8 children of a poor and dysfunctional household. He barely knew his father who was often absent working for a local steel business who sent him on missions around France and all the way to Algeria. His mother, a religious cook, was cold and prone to drinking. She showed no signs of attention to the young child. The fact that his parents gave him the same second name as one of his older brothers passed at the very young age, could have easily created a feeling of non-belonging to a household that was never a true home.
After obtaining his certificat d'étude, he started working but often changed jobs, due to his bad temper. These were all overlooked labor jobs as he received a very basic education. His last employeur was the city of Chartres, who engaged him as a cemetery sweeper, a job that was firstly hard to endure due to the isolation but at last Raymond Isidore found pleasure in this activity and was even a leader of his team, as Fuks explains.
At the age of 24 he married Adrienne Rolland, a widowed seamstress with three children. With the help of his two sons-in-law Ramyond Isidore constructed a very basic house with no commodities and no running water, on the property acquired in 1929, in a narrow one-way street Rue du Repos.
© Ana Malnar: House Picassiette in Chartres
© Ana Malnar: The detail of the mosaic wall and window. House Picassiette, Chartres
© Ana Malnar. House Picassiette
© Ana Malnar
After a year of hard labor, Raymond Isidore moved to the property with his family in August 1930. The main idea from this moment, his passion and obsession, will be to decorate his house, to create an imagened home that will become one of the best-known examples of french naive art. As someone who never had the means to travel, Raymond Isidore, also named Picassiette (as "Picasso of ceramic plates", from French assiette:plate) confirms the idea that we can go as far as our imagination takes us. We can travel the world in the comfort of our room and visit all the possible places without seeing anything. Picassiette started his project from the house interior, with mural paintings inspired by postcards. Then he painted all of the furniture before proceeding with the exterior, by casting earthenware and mosaics in cement.
After acquisition of the terraced plot, he will make the Chapel, the Courtyard of the Tomb, the Throne of the Sweeper, and the Summer House, ending the adventure with his Paradise Garden and two major wall mosaics of The Wall of Chartres and Jerusalem. A project of 15 tonnes of broken ceramic dishes according to his wife! It is important to say that Picassiette never knew how to draw, the inspiration for his mosaics came from his dreams, vivid night visions that he would obsessively reproduce in the daytime, guided by the spirit- as he often explained. I would add that without faith there is no possibility to manage such a meticulous task of 29 000 working hours!
Picassette's obsession came hand in hand with a fragile mental health. Throughout his life he had endured multiple stays at the psychiatric hospital in Bonneval. After his last stay, in 1964, a hallucination of the apocalypse urged him to escape to the fields on a stormy night. He was found the next day by the road and transported back home, where he died in the middle of the night, two days before his 64th birthday. His death has been declared on the date of his birthday, the 8th of September, to match his prophecy of dying on the date of his birth.
© Ana Malnar: the kitchen
© Ana Malnar: mural painting representing the Saint-Michel mountain
© Ana Malnar: the amazing curtain rod completely covered in mosaic
© Ana Malnar: kitchen wall, details
The main pattern in the kitchen are small painted flowers. What has not been painted, has been completely covered in predominantly white mosaics. Above the kitchen table, Picassiette painted the Saint-Michael mountain, using a postcard as a template. Nothing in this eclectic space has been left untouched, even the vases and the radio station have been covered in mosaics!
© Ana Malnar: the bedroom
In the bedroom, where even the sewing machine has been covered in mosaics, we see another mural painting, The Cathedral By Night, probably inspired by a postcard. As a strong believer, we can assume that Picassiette was probably the most fond of The Chapel, a sacred space that he dedicated to himself.
© Ana Malnar: The Chapel
From both sides of the central cross, we can observe typical biblical motives: the temple of Jerusalem floating in the sky, with the significant black Christ pointing to the Crosses of Golgotha. Below we can observe the scene of the escape from Egypt. There are also some scenes of a humble rural life represented in the mosaics of a village woman feeding chickens, that I wasn't able to capture unfortunately, along with the representation of Picassiette himself with his dog.
© Ana Malnar: The Chapel
© Ana Malnar: The Chapel
© Ana Malnar: entering the Tomb of the Sweeper
Picassette would say that, as living amongst the dead, he has to save himself from death in order to reconnect to his spirit. The Tomb of The Sweeper, as Picassiette called it, is a sort of an allegory of his life, a life where artistic creation was an ultimate attempt to ease a tortured spirit obsessed by death, and where even the smallest ceramic piece is a yell for life. On the tomb we can observe the rosette as a central piece. The rosette represents the Sun and is also one of Picassiette's signature symbols.
© Ana Malnar:The Tomb of The Sweeper
Above the mausoleum we see the Cathedral, from where one can view the imagined city. This childlike perspective is typical for naive art, creating the illusion of floating objects without anything solid anchoring them in place. It is important to explain the reason why the symbol of the Cathedral is often present in Picassiette's art. The Cathedral of Chartres is above all, a unique spiritual and aesthetic experience. For Picassiette, who had a limited amount of cultural references, it was probably the ultimate representation of opulence, faith, pride, and identification with his home town. This monument also called The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres, stands as one of the best-known and most influential examples of High Gothic and Classic Gothic architecture.
© Ana Malnar: the Summer House
© Ana Malnar: The mosaic of Picassiette with his dog Totor
The Summer House, representing mostly rough sketches of mural painting and unfinished mosaics, is a place where Picassiette would hide from sudden visitors. Again, we can observe the omnipresent refreshing innocence in the mosaics of animals and flowers, with idealized scenes of daily life, like the mosaic of Picassiette with his dog Totor watching the stars. I was particularly amazed with the extraordinary peace that dominates the Garden of Heaven, essentially an english type of garden combining free and soft forms with artificial elements. In this case we can find numerous statues at ground level, representing The Eiffel Tower, Mother Nature, The Great Goddess and the small bust of the Pastor.
© Ana Malnar: The Garden of Paradise
© Ana Malnar: a small garden statue covered in mosaics
The garden leads us to the Throne of the Holy Spirit, welded to the great Wall of Jerusalem. The massive Throne is made of blue cement and flint. The white cupolas of Jerusalem overlook the mosaics of major world capitals.
© Ana Malnar: The Throne of the Holy Spirit
As a self-taught modest naive artist, who would often hide from visitors, it is interesting to note that Raymond Isidore had the chance to meet Picasso in 1954 and was photographed by Doisneau in 1956. If we were to seek parallels with any other naive artist in France, it would probably be Ferdinand Cheval, a modest postman who spent 33 years in creating an extraordinary Palace entirely handmade of atypical stones, in Hauterives, southeastern France.
Picassiette's obsession with the "Divine", visible in the Throne of the Holy Spirit, the Tomb and The Chapel, can be explained by his biography: in May 1962, time where he would sporadically get tormented by psychotic hallucinations making him believe to be the descendant of Christ, he admitted that the house is completed, the spirit silenced, and his mission accomplished.
"I always stayed faithful to my spirit, to the path that I had to follow; sometimes we fall, we stumble, then we set off again to reach the goal....I stayed faithful to my beliefs, I accomplished my act. It was the pastime of my life." (Fuks, Maison Picassiette, 2019;26)
© Ana Malnar: detail of the unfinished mosaics
Fuks Paul, La Maison Picassiette, Les amis du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres
More information about the House Picassiette:
22 Rue du Repos, 28000 Chartres
Instagram: La Maison Picassiette, @la_maison_picassiette