Centre Val De Loire Section

Maison Picassiette, the masterpiece of Raymond Isidore

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Who is Raymond Isidore?

Maison Picassiette (House of Millions Pieces) is, as the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval, proof that you don’t need to be a trained and renowned artist to create a masterpiece as art is universal.

But it also brings one question: does one need to be crazy to have genius, or are all geniuses crazy?

Similarly to Facteur Cheval, Raymond Isidore comes from an impoverished background and is mocked all his life for the creations he produces from recycled materials!

Born in Chartres in 1900, the 7th of 8 children, he becomes blind in his early childhood but is cured when he is 10 "by kissing the pillar of the Cathedral of Chartres".

He leaves school at a young age with very basic knowledge, and grows into a fragile and sensitive yet temperamental adult, revolted by the injustice of which he feels the victim.

His life takes a new turn in 1924 when he marries a widow; in 1929 he has enough funds to purchase a small piece of land in Chartres - St. Chéron district where he builds a modest house with the help of his two step-sons.

However, all his life he holds a succession of labor jobs.

Maison Picassiette, Raymond Isidore's dream house

His artistic streak kicks in 1938, when sparkling and colorful fragments of glass and earthenware that fill in local potholes catch his eye.

He initially collects and piles them up in a corner of his garden without knowing what to do with them, until he realizes that he has enough to create a mosaic to embellish his house.

He quickly gets caught up in the game, and walks the surrounding paths to salvage fragments of old broken bottles and plates, hence his nickname of pique-pinch assiette-plate - picassiette.

He collects during the day, and in the evening, after his working day, sets to work by the light of his kerosene lamp.

He says that celestial figures visit him at night to fuel his imagination.

He decorates the walls and ceilings of his house, but also the furniture, with mosaics and frescoes that depict Chartres and its surroundings but also the Mont Saint-Michel. Outside, he adorns the garden alleys and perimeter wall.

As the Facteur Cheval, he comes across as a fool, people make fun of him.

This incomprehension and rejection are exacerbated by the misery of WWII and his posting in a coal warehouse, a dark period which causes him a nervous breakdown and to be interned in a psychiatric hospital.

Once out, he remains absorbed by his inner world and resumes creating his mosaics, oblivious to his emerging notoriety, as more and more people come to see the decoration of his Maison Picassiette, which he completes in 1952.

He eventually accepts that the public is genuinely interested and then takes pleasure in showing visitors around.

A recognized artist

This autodidact and artistic genius thus has the satisfaction of being recognized during his lifetime!

By 1954, his notoriety exceeds the limits of Chartres as Picasso pays him a visit and Doisneau photographs him in 1956!

That same year, he embarks in the construction and decoration of a chapel and a summer-house at the back of his house.

He also buys an adjoining piece of land to create a garden which he adorns with more mosaics and frescoes.

He resigns in 1958 as he feels unwell and devotes himself fully to his creations.

As his health deteriorates further in the years that follow, he abandons mosaics in favor of frescoes, in case ...

But sadly his inspiration dries up as his health declines.

He suffers a hard blow in 1960, when the town expropriates him to build social housing; he loses his vegetable garden but narrowly retains his house and his orchard!

This certainly causes the resurgence of his psychiatric disorders in 1962 and their acceleration.

This is when he produces his last creation, La Tombe de l’Esprit.

Perhaps the lack of project, after 24 years of intense creation, causes him to relapse in 1964 and to be re-interned in a mental hospital.

On September 5, 1965, he ran away in a thunderstorm during a fit of madness; disoriented, he falls into a ditch where he is found dead in the early morning! He is 64 years old.

His wife outlives him but goes to a retirement home in 1979 where she dies in 1986.

Maison Picassiette, also known in English as the House of Millions Pieces, becomes the property of the City of Chartres en 1981, is classified Historical Monument in 1983 and labeled '20th Century Patrimony' in 2016.

Department of Eure-et-Loir - Chartres - 22 rue du Repos
Coordinates: Lat 48.44217 - Long 1.50612

Wikimedia Commons photos: House - Interior - courtyard - Chapel - bedroom - garden  are all CC BY-SA 4.0

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