Jean-Louis Faure, who died at the age of 90, was a Parisian artist whose sculptures, mostly carved from wood over a 35-year period, evolved into a political art show that examined history of his country throughout the 20th century and recast it. like a tragedy; his work, inspired by a childhood lived under the German occupation of 1940-44, became a meditation on the course of national decline and self-deception.
Myths and patriotic pretensions were examined one by one and then soaked in an acid bath of lucid contempt.
Faure comes from a notable Protestant family, established for centuries in Bordeaux, traditionally a winemaker.
His grandfather, Elie Faure, was a pathologist; he was also one of the main art critics of his time, author of a history of art in five volumes which was for many years a basic text in French universities.
The artist’s great-uncle, who gave him his name, was an eminent surgeon and a personal friend of Marshal Philippe Pétain. His father, François Faure, was an army officer who joined the Resistance during the war and worked with “Colonel Rémy” to build the “Confrérie Notre Dame” network, one of the largest in France.
François Faure was denounced to the Gestapo in 1942 and deported to Dachau. At the end of the war, General de Gaulle made him Compagnon de la Liberation, the highest decoration of war.
Jean-Louis Faure was born on May 1, 1931 in Paris and grew up on the family property on the banks of the Dordogne, in his grandfather’s house, a stone’s throw from Michel de Montaigne’s “ivory tower”. When war broke out in 1939, he was eight years old and proudly beckoned his father to fight in what the child knew was “the best army in the world”.
Faure never recovered from the shock of defeating this army in less than two months in the summer of 1940. He said he considered the military collapse and subsequent collaboration with the Nazis of Marshal Pétain’s government meant that France was “forever dishonored”.
As a child, he was also marked by political divisions within his immediate family. When his father was deported and his mother taken to prison, the 12-year-old boy was adopted by his Petainist great-uncle, whose own son had volunteered to fight for Germany.
Faure remained very attached to the collaborationist side of his family, but the experience inspired some of his most passionate work.
In 1940, Faure moved to Paris, where he was admitted to a girls’ school, the Lycée Fénelon. There he found himself the only boy in a class of 32. The experience left him very wary of attracting attention; his math teacher once told him that he looked like “a crumb of bread hidden behind a chest of drawers”.
After leaving school, he entered the School of Fine Arts, where he mastered the techniques of etching. He was called up for national service in 1952 and assigned to a tank regiment, the Chasseurs d’Afrique, but by an administrative error was diverted to the ceremonial guard of the Governor General of Algeria.