Obituary: Patrice Bachelard

Patrice Bachelard was one of the most distinguished and amiable members of that younger generation of art historians and museum officials in France, which is profoundly European in education and cultural allegiances but, unlike their predecessors, refreshingly open to developments in New York or London.

In 1980, when we first met in Paris, Bachelard was an active and committed curator at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. From 1977 until 1982, he worked with his special blend of enthusiasm and probity on several important projects, exhibitions of work by Hayden, Morellet, Honegger, Chryssa, Geer van Velde and Derain, and collaborated with colleagues at the Centre Georges Pompidou on shows for Daniel Spoerri, Raymond Hains and Yves Klein: all artists - including Derain in his day - at the cutting edge of art. In 1979, he provided the official link for an ambitious show of British art organised by the British Council in Paris, and in 1980 served as a Commissioner for the big Agam retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

But in that same year Bachelard was already discussing his plans for leaving the Musee d'Art Moderne and founding a new monthly art publication, a broadly based review of the arts in Europe. This he achieved in 1983 with the creation of Beaux Arts, a glossy monthly magazine of considerable elegance and style in appearance and presentation.

Bachelard was still in his twenties. Since the heyday of L'Oeuil, a comparatively luxurious magazine of ideas with a rather chic concern for ethnography as well as art and architecture, art reviews published in Paris had on the whole been consigned to utilitarian-looking newsprint, however serious the paper. Beaux Arts was attractive in appearance and from the beginning managed to be extremely informative about art events and news in Europe, with obvious priority for France but with newsletters and articles from New York and London.

From the beginning, Beaux Arts was a journal of information and critical exposition for the general public rather than providing a platform for artists or the more specialised reaches of critical dialectic. Within these boundaries, it functioned well, providing for instance a lot of fresh information in the cut and thrust of the early Eighties about the background and purposes of the new art foundations in France and elsewhere, such as the Fondation Cartier.

Good-looking and up to date, Beaux Arts became an indispensable purchase for visitors to Paris. As a frequent visitor to London, Bachelard publicised the main British art events of his period as editor, 1983-88, and proved a good friend to English artists.

As a frequent visitor to Paris, I looked forward to our meetings: Bachelard was unfailingly cheerful, friendly and free of cant, with a clear eye on artistic developments as well as the not infrequent nonsenses which play such a persistent role in these events. He utterly disproved, as so many French people do, the English notion that the French are stand- offish and unhelpful to foreigners. Dashing across Paris on his motorbike, Bachelard kept up with many friendships as well as practical commitments in the art world, writing and broadcasting, and was conspicuously helpful and friendly, I observed, to an older generation of critics, artists and gallery personnel.

In 1988 Bachelard moved on from Beaux Arts, which had reached a satisfactory circulation, and founded a new review, Museart, with an emphasis on the decorative arts, in 1990. But, in just over a year, he seemed to need the freedom of broader horizons in serving as Commissioner, appointed by the Ministere Francais des Affaires Etrangeres, for a series of exhibitions in Prague and Bratislava and, for Luxembourg, Lisbon and Taiwan, a large retrospective of paintings by Zao Wou-ki. There were other shows, including an extremely important assembly of Derain's sculptures which circulated among French museums.

He wrote an excellent book on Derain, Un Fauve pas ordinaire (1995), and continued to work with his old friend Josette Hayden on the catalogue raisonne of her husband Henri Hayden's paintings. But by 1993 his American friend and partner Gregory Usher was ill - Usher was an authority on food and gave courses in cooking along revised Cordon Bleu lines at the Ritz Hotel in Paris - and Bachelard was forced to change their shared apartment, which had no lift, and to modify his working commitments in order to spend more time at home, both in Paris and a charming house in the country. He continued to serve as a member of the Conseil International des Musees and, through his work on Derain, became Vice-President des Amis d'Andre Derain. He was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

In February 1994, Gregory Usher died, a victim of the Aids virus, and within weeks of his death Patrice Bachelard learnt that he too was infected. He lived through his final months with great courage, helped by the companionship of his younger sister, Isabelle Bachelard, a gifted authority on wine; his family are arboriculteurs and hotel and restaurant owners in the Saint- Germain-en-Laye region.

Bachelard's memorial Mass at the church of Saint Roch in the rue St Honore was packed with representatives of the art world in Paris, when it was made clear in one of several moving addresses that his work on Derain and Hayden would be continued. His friend and sometime colleague Daniel Abady, now Director of the Jeu de Paume, has organised a special show of art and documentation as an "Hommage a Patrice Bachelard", which runs concurrently with the main exhibition at the Jeu de Paume until 24 September.

Patrice Bachelard, art historian and curator: born Saint- Germain-en-Laye, France 1952; died Paris 10 May 1995.

Comments