The Lutèce Diaries, 16: Love on the run, heart lies bleeding (unedited and uncensored version)

First sent out by e-mail, and posted today for the first time. After getting more than half-way through with a re-edit seven months later, I’ve decided to leave this piece in its initial, raw, somewhat over-detailed initial state for the sake of authenticity… and for the record. — PB-I, October 23, 2019

PARIS — So there  I was at dusk, heart broken and gums bleeding, teeth throbbing, staggering up the rue des Martyrs towards the Montmartre cemetery and the grave of the man I blamed it all on: Francois Truffaut.

In the late French director’s five-film, 20-year saga that began with the 1959 “The 400 Blows” and climaxed with “Love on the Run,” Antoine Doinel, played throughout the cycle by Truffaut’s alter-ego Jean-Pierre Leaud, is always on the run, often from the women in his life: His mother, his wife (the effervescent Claude Jade, whom Antoine, in the 1968 “Stolen Kisses,” rightly calls “Peggy Proper” for her prim manners), his girlfriend (Dorothee, who made her debut in “Love on the Run” and would go on to become the French equivalent of Romper Room’s Miss Nancy), his older married mistress (Delphine Seyrig at her glamorous apex), and various intermittent mistresses. The only one he seems to chase, apart from Dorthee’s “Sabine,” whom he loves but whose love seems to scare him (he found her after patching up and tracing a photo of the girl a supposed lover had torn up in a restaurant basement phone booth during an angry break-up call he overheard), is Marie-France Pisier’s “Colette,” who we first meet in Truffaut’s 30-minute contribution to the 1963 multi-director film “Love at 20.”  (They encounter each other at a classical music concert; Antoine is working at the time in a Phillips record factory, with Truffaut letting us see the hot wax being spun into discs. In “Love on the Run,” Antoine finally tracks Dorothee’s Sabine to her work-place. A record shop where couples make-out in listening rooms.) You may remember Pisier as the vengeful sexpot in the movie adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s “The Other Side of Midnight,” in which she introduces an inventive way of hardening an older man’s penis which might have come in handy in my own recent saga if I’d only have remembered it before now.

The first hint that I was starring in a sort of Bizarro universe re-make of, specifically, “Love on the Run” came when the woman in question — you know her as “Vanessa,” whom I described picking up on (although I’ve since learned that she may have been picking up on me) at a vernissage a few blocks from the Pere Lachaise cemetery (cemeteries also figure in the Antoine Doinel cycle; the Montmartre one where Truffaut was eventually buried turns up in three of the five films, notably as the burial place of Antoine’s mother, revealed to him by her former lover as being next to the real tomb of the model for “Camille.”) and right after having three teeth extracted, e-mailed me from the Lyon train station before boarding a train to that city to visit her grandkids (like Antoine, I seem to have unresolved mother issues) to tell me that the night, our first together which had concluded the previous morning, and which we’d both exuded at the time was extraordinary and unique (she’d e-mailed me afterwards that she didn’t understand why we weren’t still together) felt “incomplete” (later she’d call it “inaccomplished”) because I couldn’t or wouldn’t get it up.  (My wording; she didn’t put it so vulgarly.) In the Truffaut film, after Colette calls him from a window on a Lyon-bound train at the Gare de Lyon, where Antoine has just dropped of his son for camp, Antoine jumps on the moving train without a ticket, surprises Colette in her sleeper car right after a fat middle-aged businessman, assuming she’s a prostitute, has rubbed up against her in the aisle (a lawyer, she’d spotted Antoine earlier in the day at the court-house, where with Jade he’d just completed France’s first no-fault divorce, an echo of my parents’ some years earlier). After they catch up, she upbraids him on the revisionist way he recounted their courtship as 20-year-olds in a fictionalized memoir he’s just published — “My family didn’t move in across the street from you, you followed us!” (At the time, Antoine is working as a proofreader at a – literally – underground publisher on a book detailing the 18 minutes when De Gaulle disappeared during the 1968 student-worker uprising. Letters requesting love assignations sent by underground pneumatics also figure in the 1968 “Stolen Kisses,” in this case from Antoine’s older, married lover – his employer’s wife — played by the glamorous Seyrig.) He tries to kiss her, she light-heartedly repels the attempt scolding him, “Antoine, you haven’t changed.” The conductor comes around for tickets, Antoine pulls the emergency chord and jumps off the still moving train. We see the now 34-year-old Antoine running across a field, an echo of the last, poignant, liberating moment in “The 400 Blows,” when a 14-year-old Antoine, having escaped from a youth home/prison, is frozen on screen and in our memories, a broad smile on his face as he runs on a beach, discovering the ocean (the antipathe of Chris Marker’s ocean in “La jete”)  for the first time.

In my own Bizarro universe re-make of the Antoine-Colette train scene, it was Colette who, after having joined me in a mutually agreed upon and extraordinary kiss was jumping from our train.

I was devastated, as I thought we’d also both agreed that what made our first night together magical is that the things other couples often view as preliminary — hand-holding, snuggling, French kissing, hand-kissing — had for us been electric. (I’m purposely avoiding citing the many words and motions we exchanged which confirm this because this piece is not intended as an indictment – “If you don’t love me, what was this?”) After writing her an e-mail to ask why she chose to bring this up in an e-mail as opposed to face to face, and explaining that if you want your partner to get it up, the worse thing you can possibly do is tell him it bothers you that he couldn’t get it up, and that a 57-year-old man can’t just get hard on command, I said she should ask herself, “If he was impotent, would I continue with him?” and if the answer was no, get out. She misinterpreted this in a more dire manner, we made up Friday, but only for her to send me another e-mail Saturday — 20 minutes before she knew I was receiving guests, my artist friends K. & R. for the famous Palestinian and Jamaican chicken twins, breaking up. And adding if I wouldn’t mind returning the scarlet scarf her Islamophobic friend  had left at my home after I asked her and her husband to leave a dinner part I’d hosted for them all when they started going at French Muslims. So it was with misty eyes that I opened the door to K. & R., and found myself confiding my troubles of the heart with friends with whom I’d not yet reached that level of intimacy. Thanks to their and particularly K.’s good humor — leading the conversation to other subjects but ready to go back to consoling me, even suggesting, “We need to find you a woman!” — I did pretty well, considering a germinating girlfriend had just broken up with me by e-mail. But I guess I must have sounded worse than I felt, because when I asked what I should do if she contacted me again, K. said “Drop it! Do you want to end up jumping out a window?!”

After more e-mail exchanges last week, the tenor of which from Vanessa remained mostly consistent — she was still running from the love express our train had become — I finally ceded, agreeing it was better to cut it off as I couldn’t return to the just-friends thing, she sent me an e-mail where she said that she too (as I’d expressed I was) was in tears, that her life had changed since “1/24” — the evening we met at the vernissage — that she’d never be the same again, that she knew she had a problem with loving, that she hoped I’d find someone but that it was probably too late for us.

This of course — the tears — brought me running, and I wrote her to say that I’d been blind, that she maybe thought she had a problem with love but that everything she’d done in my regard — particularly being ready to lose me — was done out of love.

On Friday we had another magical evening, organizing an impromptu, wintry pique-nique on the banks of the Ourcq canal. I assured her I wouldn’t go all out but just bring what was already in the house; as it happened this also included a vintage wooden unfoldable pique-nique table in a valise that came with the apartment. I’d promised her to go no further than a chaste kiss goodnight at the Metro station. “Vanessa and Paul, round two!” she’d blithely announced over the hummus, and the rest of the evening kept to this light tenor, with lots of laughter. At one point I stopped the converation to note: “This is important.  You see? When we’re face to face, we understand each other. E-mail communication is really sinister.” The night concluded with a chaste kiss at the Metro.

Ghosts in the machine

Wanting to diversify my world — I’d be making my famous Palestinian chicken for friends of Vanessa and bringing it to the house they were moving to that day, looking out over (I’m not making this up) the Pere Lachaise cemetery — on Saturday morning I decided to check out the vernissage for a group exhibition in my suburban Paris village of the pre Saint-Gervais. Life is more than women! Life is more than the women in my life over the past few years who seem to be Bizarro Universe interpreting the scripts for Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films!

After sensing that in lieu of the usual joy of discovery I still feel around art I was feeling incredibly wary after entering the art space, in the same room below the covered market where I’d scored my old aborted professor Jerome Charyn’s “The Catfish Man” — I was increasingly regretting that I lacked the coping skills Charyn’s hero (himself) had been inculpated with by being forced to tangle with the urban catfish in the mudflats of the Bronx of his come-uppance — when someone I didn’t recognize at first, a woman in her ’50s with a boyish hair-cut, rose up like one of Charyn’s catfish and announced in wonder, “Paul.” It was another V, the last girlfriend and who, in contrast to the current V., who never stopped blaming herself for being unable to love, had taken the opposite tactic with me when we last tango’d/tangle’d nearly three years ago, blaming it all on me, even though in this case the opposite was true; this was one sick puppy. I know this sounds like the usual break-up sour grapes, but I’m short-handing because she doesn’t merit more time than this. I simply mention the encounter because it may have been an omen….

… And to introduce what I conveyed to “Vanessa” as we marched from the ill-advisedly chosen Pere Lachaise rdv to the dinner at the home overlooking the cemetery. I know it’s not advised to mention an ex to a current, but for me this was a means of delivering a series of compliments:

“Where she doesn’t assume any responsibility, you unfairly blame everything on yourself…. And even though she’s 14 years younger than you, on looks there’s no contest.” Vanessa smiled widely at this. “She’s skinny-ass where you have the body of a woman, uninteresting to look at where you are.”

I was annoyed when …. No, I find I can’t go into what annoyed me, nor any other details of the party related to my interactions with “Vanessa” because it sounds like evidence gathering, and this piece is not intended to be an indictment nor a reckoning, but a first step on the path out — out of heartbreak and out of “Vanessa” — for myself. I also believe that, like an American black-belt I once knew in Antwerp once explained to me in saying why the very fact that his hands are deadly weapons means he has a reponsibility *not* to fight, a writer doesn’t have the right to use his considerable gifts in romantic reckoning.

So suffice to say that the evening seemed to end sublimely, with Vanessa and I getting lost in perpetual circling of a Paris roundabout, this one the Place Gambetta. We held hands from the moment we left the hosue; there was some warm French kissing. When I said I wanted her to come home with me, she responded that she “wasn’t against” this, but reminded me that she had to get up early to go meet her grand-daughter at the train station.

We seemed to part in joy hands taking an extra clutch before separating…

…but..not before, unprompted, she asked out loud again why she was unable to jump into my arms, then answered her own question with “Is it because you couldn’t get it up?,” though not putting it that way, again sorting the demon.

Once home, in a letter I sent on getting home at 1:30 a.m., I felt compelled to repeat my earlier answers, both the defensive and proactive ones: If you want a man to get it up, the worse thing you can do is tell him it bothers you when he can’t; and then detailing, explicitly, all the other ways I’d like to please her, and ending with, “Let’s have fun with it!”

In the last e-mail I sent her Sunday before she let the hatchet fall again (and once again by e-mail), I wrote, rather poetically (she completed the beauty and humor before lowering the ax), regarding our lost midnight turnabout, “I’d rather be lost with you than found with anyone else.”

Oh and I left out one important detail: After one embrace, I finally said the words in person for the first time: “Je t’aime,” with a big smile on my face. “What am I supposed to say?” “You’re not supposed to say anything, just accept it.”

I mention this because since she broke with me after the late Saturday night letters, I’ve been torturing myself with: Did the letters, particularly the lasciciousness, scare her away? What if I’d backed off – after the happy Metro separating – and allowed her the space to come to me. So to counter this self-torturing (I even mentioned this possiblity in my last letter to her – if I’d backed off, I  might not have lost you) I’m trying to tell myself that it was more this first face-to-face declaration of love that did it.

Ultimately I think this is the problem, the reason that Sunday and Monday morning she pulled out, saying she was arresting the histoire d’amour with me because she wasn’t “at the hauteur” of my emotions and compliments to her, to a degree that it was making her sick: I don’t think she has a problem with loving (at one point she told me she’s never been able to love, that she ended her two marriages because of this); I saw this manifest from her towards me in copious ways over the past two plus weeks. I think she has a problem with accepting being loved.

Before starting this piece this overcast Tuesday morning, I’d determined not to read any new mails from V. because I knew if I read them I’d have to respond. (And that I shouldn’t have given her the power to confirm or deny that my letters, sentimental and lascivious, of late Satruday had scared her off.) The one I did receive from her this morning, sent last night, confirmed this urge but so far I’m resisting. Not so much because I’ve convinced myself that it’s unhealthy to continue on her  roller coaster (I’ve left out the numerous things she’s said or acts she’s done which indicate a profound love because this is not intended to be a requisatory, but a first step towards my own healing .. and advancement / continuation in the search for the vrais amour) but because I’ve told the part of myself unable yet to fall out of love with her, unable to let go even though my brain and a large part of my heart realizes that this is unhealthy, to let myself be swallowed up by a heart that is really broken, that this is my last hope, I’ve decided to follow two precious pieces of advice dispensed to me by my New Zealand-bred horse chief on a pony farm along the Texas – Oklahoma border more than six years ago:


  1. You can’t blame yourself for the things you can’t predict. All signs — all the signals she sent me — indicated that this woman was crazy about me from the moment she encountered me. I but responded to that with the joy in my heart this provoked.


  1. If you want a horse/filly to do what you want, the worse thing you can do is keep barking at him. You need to give him/her time to digest what you just said, so that he ultimately makes the decision him/herself.


I don’t know if she’ll write me again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep from opening any mails she might send, or from responding if I do. But this is what I’m going to attempt, at least for a week. What I do know in my heart of hearts is that she’s hurt me so much with the ups and downs that it will take more than an e-mail to convince me of any change of heart that she might have, or rather return to the previous obsession she announced with me.  I need her to do what she’d refer to as a “Woddy Allen,” running to me breathlessly along Fifth Avenue Woody at the end of “Manhattan,” arriving panting and breathless at my door before I move on.

But to get back to the French director towards whose whose grave I found myself staggering up the rue des Martyrs as the sun set over the Sacre Coeur church which slowly emerged above it, gums bleeding from the just-extracted tooth, heart still raw. Once at the grave, after filling my green plastic up from a nearby fountain with water and popping a dissolvable 1000 gram Paracetemol into the water, posing it on Truffaut’s grave (decorated with an unravelling 35 MM film spool and a worn photo of Truffaut, Leaud, and a woman who might have been Claude Jade on the set)and watching it fizz away like this love affair, I lifted the glass and, echoing the Charles Trenet song which provides the theme for the 1968  “Stolen Kisses” – in which Leaud’s Antoine and Jade’s Christine fall in love – toasted Francoise Truffaut with “A nos amours,” to our loves. I might have added “This is all your fault,” for setting a model of Antoines and his women I was continuingly trying to counter-act. I wanted to be the anti-Antoine, proposing a definite “OUI!” to all these French women I was encountering. Why did they keep behaving like Truffaut’s Antoine, falling in love only to deny it and jump off the train, fleeing into the great French wilderness, fleeing love – mine and theirs – on the run?

What Abstract-Figurative War? In Saint-Germain de Pres, the Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger explodes the notion of the Great Divide

Boucher Chapoval Polaire-moisset 1950

In an age when so many contemporary artists, whether in Paris or New York, seem to be simply re-inventing the wheel, what we at The Paris Tribune love about the Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger is that it’s found a way to bridge the work of the pioneers many of whom it was the first to champion — Dubuffet, Staël, Vieira da Silva — with living artists perpetuating that investigation in 2019. And to probe the complex relationship between the abstract and figurative movements that is more complex than many critics would have you believe. You can catch the current manifestation of this aesthetic dexterity — on the part of both the artists it represents and the gallery’s curators — in the exhibition Youla Chapoval, running at the gallery’s Saint-Germain des Pres space in Paris through March 2. Above: Youla Chapoval, “Polaire,” 1950. Courtesy Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger.

Paris to Villeneuve-sur-Lot: How the Southwest was won by a gallerist in Saint-Germain des Pres

bucher dubuffetJean Dubuffet, “Site domestique (au fusil espadon) avec tete d’Inca et petit fauteuil a droite,” 1966. Vinyl on canvas, 125 x 200 cm. Fascicule XXI des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, ill. 217. Copyright Dubuffet and courtesy Galerie Jaeger Bucher / Jeanne-Bucher, Paris.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2014, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the Paris Tribune’s sister magazine Art Investment News on September 14, 2014. (Like what you’re reading? Please let us know by making a donation today. Just designate your payment through PayPal to, or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check. No amount is too small. To translate this article into French or another language, please use the translation engine button at the right of this page.)

PARIS — Accessibility has become a dirty word, with its implication that to reach the masses, art must be dumbed down. But truncate the word to “access,” and you understand the collaboration that the municipality of Villeneuve-sur-Lot in Southwestern France — a region better known for the fertility of its grapevines than the fecundity of its modern art scene — and the legendary Saint-Germain des Pres gallerist Jean-Francois Jaeger of the Gallery Jeanne Bucher Jaeger have forged over the past 45 years, under which the anything but hic residents of this ‘provincial’ town have been able to experience the contemporary art revolution(s) of the ’50s, ’60s, and beyond contemporaneously with the putatively hip Parisian public. This complicity is being celebrated, through October 26, at the Musee de Gajac, a converted Villeneuve flour mill, in “A Passion for Art: Jean-Francois Jaeger and the Gallery Jeanne-Bucher  Jaeger,” with work selected by the 90-year-old honoree which, true to form, prizes mystery over mediocrity and discovery over dilettantism.

If the Gallery Jeanne-Bucher has fulfilled the central mission of a contemporary art gallery for nearly 90 years, as an avatar (or avant-garde for the avant-garde) for Cubism (exhibiting Braque, Picasso, Gris…), Abstraction (Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klee, Arp…), and Surrealism (De Chirico, Ernst, Giacometti, Masson, Miro, Tanguy, Picabia…), Jeanne Bucher was not looking to attract solely the Parisian and international cognizanti to her gallery on the rue de Cherche-Midi (later on the boulevard Montparnasse and eventually the rue de Seine) when she founded it in 1925, but to “diffuse the taste for art amongst all classes.” Jaeger, who took over direction of the gallery in 1947 (officially succeeded in 2003 by his daughter Veronique), has implemented that mission with aplomb by loaning or arranging the loans or gifts of contemporary art to the Gajac Museum and its predecessor institutions in Villeneuve and its environs, notably for two biennales and four major exhibitions since 1969, dedicated variously to Roger Bissiere and Friends (the friends including Andre Lhote and Georges Braque); Hans Reichel; artists of Algeria and the South; and Spanish artists persecuted by Franco, many of whom found refuge in Southwestern France. Bissiere, a native of the region, is accorded a central place in the oeuvres selected by Jaeger (given carte blanche by the museum, an indication of the trust he’s earned with the community) for this latest exhibition, accompanied by major examples from Jean Dubuffet, Vieira da Silva, Louise Nevelson, Fabienne Verdier, Hans Reichel, Mark Tobey, Nicholas de Stael, Fermin Aguayo, Yang Jiechang, Jean Amado, and Susumu Shingu, the ensemble promising “que d’aventuresoffered to our curiosity, to our search for a real initiation,” as Jaeger puts it. He goes on to praise the Gajac museum as “one of our best provincial museums.” When most Parisians use the term ‘provincial,’ they mean it as an insult, but Jaeger is speaking strictly geographically; there’s nothing provincial about the Gajac programming, which seems more interested in “initiating” its public in major 20th- and 21st-century artistic currents than providing fleeting encounters with random works or catering to existing tastes with sure box-office hits. By comparison, it’s the major exhibitions in Paris and New York this summer that have seemed provincial, with the Petite Palais re-visiting (encore?!) “Paris 1900,” the Pompidou the relationship between Breton and Picabia, the Orsay Van Gogh (albeit as analyzed by Artaud), and New York’s Museum of Modern Art the Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec.

bucher destael

Nicolas de Staël, “Jour de Fete,” 1949. Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm. No. 176 of Catalogue Raisonne. Private collection. Courtesy Galerie Jaeger Bucher / Jeanne-Bucher, Paris.

What unites most of the work on display in Villeneuve-sur-Lot is not just that it favors the abstract over the figurative, but that this is abstract art whose complexity invites the viewer to engage. This kind of engagement doesn’t happen overnight. Like the dark malbec-based Cahors wine in the county of the Lot which neighbors Villeneuve-sur-Lot, it’s the fruit of years of cultivation. And indeed, it was more than 50 years ago that the artistic brain trust of Villeneuve-sur-Lot started planting the seeds of artistic appreciation in its community. (The other factor that unites most of the artists in this exhibition, is that — with the exceptions of Dubuffet and de Stael, who can be seen as the elders of the epoch — most are part of a generation of artists who flowered from the late ’40s to late ’60s, a lost generation in the institutional memories of most big-city museums.)

In 1963, as Jacques Balmont, a printer by trade, recounts to Emmanuel Jaeger in the presse dossier for the exhibition, Balmont got together with Rene Verdier, local salon organizer Maurice Fabre, municipal art school founder and painter Pierre Raffi, and bookseller Robert Bonhomme to organize an annual exhibition open to both professionals and amateurs. After successive shows on provincial painters in 1964 and ’65, this informal committee increased the ante in 1966 with an exhibition devoted to the fauve (and Bordelaise) artist Albert Marquet — signaling that they understood something even schooled curators seem to forget, that a museum has a responsibility to rescue significant artists from the ‘oublie.’ (When I meet otherwise cultured young and not-so-young people — even artists — who don’t know who Suzanne Valadon, Berthe Morisot, Marie Laurencin, and Leonor Fini are, I assign their ignorance to the irresponsibility of the museum directors and curators whose sexism has excluded these major artists.) This interest by the local artistic brain trust in highlighting the ‘second tiere’ (not to be confused with ‘also ran’) of major mid-20th century movements continued in 1967 with a biennale featuring 48 works by another Bordeaux-born artist, Andre Lhote, culled principally from Lhote’s widow. But they didn’t stop there; the biennale also included work by Clave, Pignon, Chastel, Louttre-B and 150 provincial painters.

bucher bissiere

Roger Bissiere, “Vert et Ochre,” 1954. Oil on jute canvas, mounted on contreplaque. Courtesy Galerie Jaeger Bucher / Jeanne-Bucher, Paris.

For the next biennale in 1969, it was time for Balmont and associates to finally combine their fidelity to local talent with their curiosity about under-represented international-caliber artists, and for this one figure presented himself: the recently deceased Roger Bissiere, a master of post-War abstraction born in nearby Villereal. Enter Jean-Francois Jaeger.

When the Villeneauve team sought out Bissiere’s son, he told them that they absolutely needed to enroll Saint-Germain des Pres gallerist Jaeger and the Jeanne-Bucher Gallery, which had represented Bissiere since 1951. They would have been happy with enough tableaux for an exhibition focused solely on Bissiere, but Jaeger — in a pattern that would repeat itself over the next 45 years — was thinking bigger. He proposed instead to expand the event under the rubrique “Bissiere and Friends.” “And what friends!” recalls Balmont. In addition to 67 paintings, three tapestries, and 10 lithographs by Bissiere, the exhibition at the Theatre Georges-Leygues included work by Braque, Lhote, Vieira da Silva, and Hans Reichel. This in turn ‘enchaine’ed into a fourth biennale in 1971 consecrated principally to Reichel, a disciple of Bauhaus and compagnon de route of Paul Klee, Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, and Anais Nin. The nexus was once again Jaeger who, from the collection of the Jeanne-Bucher Gallery, Reichel’s companion, and private holdings secured 75 watercolors and paintings dating from 1921 to 1958. This grandeur of vision — augmented by a complementary exhibition of other artists — contrasted comically with the seat of the pants logistics, which saw Balmont and his colleagues transporting large-scale works by Hans Hartung, Serge Poliakoff, and others from Paris to the south with municipal trucks typically reserved for filling pot-holes.

The heart of any museum is its permanent collections, which serve both as a pedagogic reference and a potential treasure chest for future acquisitions. Perhaps impressed by the community’s seriousness in establishing an acquisition fund in 1976, Jaeger next convinced Louttre-B, Bissiere’s son, to make the Musee Rapin, Gajac’s predecessor museum, the depository for his 220 existing engravings and any to come.

Unfortunately, the downside of government investment in the arts is that it leaves the arts vulnerable to changes of personnel and policy (curators propose, politicians dispose….). (That the legendary French singer-songwriter Charles Trenet is its most famous export didn’t stop the new mayor of the Languedoc town of Narbonne from de-funding and effectively canceling this year’s edition of the prestigious Trenet festival. And while Villeneuve’s current mayor proudly proclaims the town’s policy of making culture “accessible to all,” Alain Juppe, mayor of the regional capital of Bordeaux, former prime minister, foreign minister, and presidential candidate, recently revealed himself as a small thinker when it comes to the arts by eliminating free access to the permanent collections of the municipal museums.) Thus it was that Jaeger’s subsequent enlistment of Francis Mathey, who as chief conservateur of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris had introduced Dubuffet, Balthus, Yves Klein, Pierre Soulages and a generation of young artists in France (“One of my mentors,” Jaeger says, “the first to open his museum to living artists never before exhibited in France”) in Villeneuve’s artistic future went for naught after a new government elected in 1977 lost interest in the project. It took 25 years and another change at city hall for a planned museum of art and history of the Valley of the Lot in a renovated ancient mill to be re-oriented into a museum of beaux-arts. Once again, indigenous resources and the global view of Jaeger combined in 2003 for the (re) inaugural exhibition, “Mere Algere, couleurs de Sud,” whose fount was several works donated by Maria Manton, part of the brain trust of previous exhibitions and a major Algerian-born artist. Next came “L’action pensive” in 2007, built around post-war giants of Abstraction like Nicholas de Stael, Poliakoff, Bissiere, Vieira da Silva, and Louis Nollard, followed in 2008 by “La representation pensive,” dedicated to figurative artists of the same epoch, with oeuvres lent by the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris, and the Fondation Dubuffet. The ante was upped even further in 2010. Inspired by commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, and cognizant of the region’s role in welcoming exiles of the Franco regime, Jaeger and crew programmed “Spain, the dark years,” convincing leading French and Spanish museums to loan work by Miro, Julio Gonzalez, Fermin Aguayo, and even Picasso’s tapisserie for “Guernica.”

In the press dossier for “A Passion for Art: Jean-Francois Jaeger and the Jeanne-Bucher Gallery,” Emmanuel Jaeger, noting the evident complicity between Balmont and Jaeger, asks the former whether there’s any single element linking Villeneuve and the gallery.

“It was after ‘Bissiere and his Friends’ and ‘Hans Reichel’ that a friendship was really born between us,” Balmont recounts. “Every time I go to Paris, my route takes me immediately to the rue de Seine, to see Jean-Francois. Our conversations have enriched me as privileged moments of discovery and knowledge…. Besides the links of friendship, of a cultural connivance, I think that Jean-Francois was drawn to our little provincial town which made the choice early on to expose its citizens to the art of its time. The will of the Gajac Museum to initiate, to democratize modern and contemporary art corroborate perfectly the fabulous trajectory of Jean-Francois and the Gallery Jaeger-Bucher/Jeanne-Bucher.” And for Jaeger, “Every return to the country of Bissiere procures for me an intense emotion and vivid sentiment of recognition for he who taught me everything when I was just beginning.” Not that the education ever stopped. “It’s in the contact with artists, and the example of their own permanent curiosity, that we have been able to refine our knowledge, not in the history of art but in its practice, in the service of those on whom destiny had conferred special gifts,” says Jaeger. “Those who make history do not constantly refer to the past, but listen to what a creator’s temperament can bring them to discover in themselves.”

Trolling the galleries around Saint-Germain des Pres on a late July afternoon, starting out on the rue de Seine, I wandered into a deserted courtyard at the base of which was an unobtrusive gallery. With no glitz and nary a mis-en-scene, the four walls sported treasures by Bissiere and Vieira da Silva, among others, which expressed not only their authors’ visions but the zeitgeist of a whole artistic era. A young woman dressed in black was occupied scribbling notes behind her desk. From a desk near hers, a dapper man dressed in a drab brown suit, tan slacks, and dark loafers murmured something before slowly rising to take the air outside the gallery. No glamour. No glad-handling. (And no other visitors in the gallery besides me.) And yet this was the man who, with no fanfare, has for nearly 70 years quietly created a home for contemporary artists typically ignored (until they’re dead anyway) by the major museums (Dubuffet was for years excluded by the Pompidou) not only in the heart of artistic Paris but, in a France perpetually obsessed with ‘decentralization’ (it even has its own ministry) in France profund. In a milieu more and more dominated by art dealers, Jean-Francois Jaeger is an art promulgator, ensuring that art doesn’t remain the province of the privileged but privileges the provinces.