François Portrat, Arbres de lumière/Trees of light

pictures from an old postcard

The decorated garden presented in this post no longer exists and its author has got somewhat into oblivion.

In any case, the internet doesn't have much information about the site and the man who created it, which is unfortunate, because -given the few pictures available- this art environment in my opinion has been one of great stature.

Life and works

Born in the Morvan area in a family of farmers, François Portrat (1884-1976), after studying in Paris and getting married, had a drugstore in the small community of Arnay-le-Duc. 

Divorced, in 1928 he left with his two daughters for Nice, maybe once more running a shop. Later he would  move to the Paris regio.

After WWII, in his early sixties, and probably being retired, Portrat settled in Champjean, a hameau (hamlet) belonging to the community of Brannay, north west of Sens in the northern part of Burgundy.

In 1947, when Portrat was 63, he began decorating house and garden, in this way giving expression to an artistic drive he  may have had since childhood, but didn't realize earlier.

As far as I understand, he first completely decorated the house, and then began embellishing the garden, making sculptures from concrete, depicting famous french personalities like the emperor Napoleon, politcians like Pompidou and Gerard d'Estaing, and celebreties like Brigitte Bardot.

The garden also has been embellished with various structures and hundreds of medaillons, attached to the trees or added to tree or totem like mosaic decorated constructs.

These medaillons could  have photographs of people or other representations, contained in frames decorated with mosaic from broken plates and pieces of plate glass.

The garden with its large number of sparkling elements, will have made a shining impression.

Bernard Lassus, the french writer about imaginary gardens and art environments, has characterised the site as a garden with "arbres de lumière" (trees of light)*. Since I have not found a particular name for Portrat's site, I have used this description in the title of this post.

Site demolished

Portrat died in march 1976, two years before Paris had the exposition Les singuliers de l'art in the Musée de l'art moderne de la ville de Paris, the first exposition in France that introduced makers of art environments to the general public, with Portrat among those exhibited.

Some years after Portrat's death the site has been demolished.

Parts of the art environment have been saved and have been added to the collections of the Lausanne Art Brut Museum, Switzerland and the Fabuloserie Collection in Dicy, France.

* Bernard Chevassu, François Portrat, in Cahiers de la Collection d'Art Brut, nr 11, Lausanne 1982 (a text out of my reach)
* Brief overview on the website of the Musée de la Création France

* Bernard Lassus has made this remark in an interview (1998) with Thierry Paquot

François Portrat
Jardin décoré ("Arbres de lumière")
Champjean, Brannay, FR
site demolished some years after 1976

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