By Dr Béatrice Chemama-Steiner
In 1964 Aloïse died, at the age of seventy-eight years, in the hospital of la Rosière near Lausanne after forty-six years of hospitalization. She has bequeathed us her Théâtre de l’Univers, a significant pictorial work that has become very well known all around the world, especially thanks to Jean Dubuffet, who considered Aloïse as one of the most important figures of Art Brut. We are indebted to Professor Steck for having noticed and preserved Aloïse’s works and to Dr. Jacqueline Porret-Forel for having established a close relationship to Aloïse, which enabled her to record her thoughts and comments. Aloïse’s life of artist-patient draws attention to the non-deficient part of certain pathologies and it has certainly contributed to the reflection leading from art to therapy.
The images of Aloïse are haunted by a pair of blue eyes, with insistent opacity and enigmatic repetition. Two eyes stuck on the faces she represents. Without pupils, they do not seem to be made for vision. They are in absolute contrast to the mobility and luxuriance of the forms and colors characteristic of the work of this painter, who had spent most of her life in a Swiss mental hospital. Aloïse calls these eyes "masks." They are perhaps more like screens, we should say. The eyes of the masks are, indeed, openings that enable the person behind to see. There is one thing we cannot see behind the mask : the eyes of the masked person. Although we are not conscious of this paradox immediately, it destabilizes our certainties. It contributes to the strangeness we feel in front of these huge sheets of brown wrapping paper covered with color pencils and chalks, that constitute the paintings of Aloïse. Angels and princesses, students and sirens, queens and kings, they all parade in a multitude of colors. They have one thing in common : instead of their eyes it is the mask that gazes at the spectator. Jacqueline Porret-Forel points out the pertinence with which Aloïse, who possesses unconscious knowledge, dissociates, thanks to this detail, the vision from the gaze. Like an experienced director, she puts the spectator in a situation in which he sees in the image something that scrutinizes him : the blue color of a gaze that blinds the vision and turns the situation around. As if the keyhole through which the spectator was peeping to discover some forbidden spectacle turned back to look at him, revealing thus his curiosity for something that is not his business. Because it is the announced love scenario that governs the dramas and parties on these images. At the same time, the fascinating blue color of the Real - two dark stains in the universe of colored fiction - intrudes in the scenery that (only) seems to be enacted by the Imaginary. Like a neologism, which interrupts the chain of signification in a phrase and all of a sudden fills it with nonsense, bringing it thus to a halt, the implacable blue gaze of the mask glued to the representations, breaks off the intrigue and brings us to a standstill, if not on a watch-out. Aloïse seems to have come across the gaze of William the Second, which she called "magnificent", one day in Potsdam in 1913. A governess in the family of the emperor’s chaplain, Aloïse had to leave her family and her native region of Vaud to take up the job. We do not have much information about the circumstances of her exile. However, it seems to have followed the break up of a love relation with a young Frenchman, who - after having abandoned priesthood - studied at the faculty of free theology in Lausanne. The break up was forced by Aloïse’s sister Marguerite. Marguerite ruled over the family since the death of their mother. Aloïse was 11 years old when her mother died. Marguerite exercised her authority without any doubt against all potential suitors, whom she probably considered as intruders because from the six children it was only Jeanne who finally got married. Despite being characterized as determined and authoritarian, Aloïse was submissive to the wishes of her sister. She could not appeal to her father, who, being alcoholic, was apparently rough and violent. She was subjugated to her sister probably even before this critical episode. However that may be, Aloïse would never talk about the break up. Jacqueline Porret-Forel would find out about the event only much later from Aloïse’s cousin. Almost thirty years after the event, the same person described Aloïse as "big and imposing", with "a queenly bearing, black piercing eyes" and "a perfect chignon." In other words, with "a royal bearing." We could imagine the strong annoyance at her huge defeat. She was not ready to renounce but must have been driven by a powerful desire for revenge. Powerless, inferior, the only solution was to escape in exile, looking for a gaze in which she could recognize herself. She could not be satisfied with less than the emperor’s gaze to win the inner conflict of the "heart walled up in misery." However, we are not dealing here with the pledge the eyes of two lovers might exchange when meeting each other, the beginning of a dance that precedes the effervescence of the bodies. Meeting the eyes of the emperor, Aloïse, "enraptured", made the decisive experience of the transferential raptus. Wearing the insignia of the subject himself, all of a sudden the other makes a sign, and painted in glowing colors to the subject, he becomes deified as the Other, appearing as Light. Aloïse found a delusional solution to her powerlessness, transformed by the look of this pair of eyes. The emblematic figure of the emperor represented all the attributes she had been waiting for. His eyes suggested sublimated and inaccessible love. That was the price to pay to escape Marguerite’s intrusion, who perhaps comes back in Aloïse’s "delicate flowers", finally won over for the cause of love. Aloïse thus succeeded in expelling all elements of conflict and she found a saving compromise between a sacrificial submission and a transgressing demand : to love the inaccessible emperor, and thus to satisfy the desire as well as the abnegation. Nothing in this process evokes the erotomaniac reversal. The imperial gaze chose her "by chance" and "unintentionally" ; it introduced a force that would govern her from then on, not in pursuit of the beloved, but in mystical abnegation, not only renouncing the fulfilment of her love but also the "monde naturel ancien d’autrefois" (in transl. "natural ancient world of the past"). Repatriated to Switzerland because of the war, she would end up quite soon, after feverish participation in the pacifist propaganda, in the "monastery", which is what she called the mental hospital of La Rosière. She was probably tempted to enter the delusional filiation that would provide her with legitimacy as to the "imperial" identification, present to a great extent in her behavior. Finally, she was satisfied with representing the analogies on the stage of her Theatre of the Universe. She thus remained loyal to her real family, especially to her father, whose most important quality was in her opinion his "patience, resulting from his devotion to his family", and also to Marguerite, about whom she did not say anything but whose despotism we can clearly feel. In the "monastery" she abandoned herself to her "love" for the emperor, first by means of letters she addressed to him and numerous other writings. Later on, she became gradually used to a double life. She began drawing secretly, but only after she carried out what remained her everyday duty until her death : ironing. The linen room of the hospital became her private kingdom, the ironing board her easel. Sheltered from the looks of the others, she could work freely with her pencils and papers. Day after day, she would draw all possible combinations of the same scene : the initial scene of her delusion, set up as the primitive scene... Royal Aloïse ! She reigns over a theatre as one would rule over a territory, ordering the representations that come to being under her finger to take up the places she assigned to them by means of the implacable repetition of the blue eyes. Because after a quick sketch of the drawing, the blue "mask" is the first to follow. The blind appeal of these eyes does not bring about any symbolization. The depth has disappeared. There remains only the blue matter, which by its rigid presence blocks all access to imagination, abundance, and representations. This beginning point functions as an inverted point of escape : the gaze contaminates all figures and disperses the signification. The breasts, the flowers seem as if they were all looking, like turgescent erectile eyes ; the ocelli invade all available space. The gaze eroticizes the entire body. The image is built up by means of associations, as if a pebble was bouncing from one detail to another (N.B. "richochet" was one of Aloïse’s favorite expressions). Aloïse composes a scenario, in which the notion of time is abolished. This scenario, by borrowing the logical modes of primary processes which organize the dreams, has become topological in the sense that every element is valid in terms of its contiguity, as a piece of historical truth. Aloïse even adds flower juice or leaves to her drawings, as if she were inscribing the "ricochets" of la Rosière or (the) Marguerite (Aloïse’s sister was called Marguerite - Margaret, but in French "marguerite" also means "daisy") in concrete terms. As to the collages she makes from the wrapping papers of the sweets offered to her by Jacqueline Porret-Forel, we could interpret them as signs (of care) left behind by Tom Thumb lost in the forest of significations. As if she wanted to show to us that every work is a continuity of another, Aloïse likes to sew them together. Sometimes she produced rolls of impressive sizes, for example 3 m 69 long in case of Grenadille bleue (Blue granadilla ; recto) / Bonne fête tourte (Happy birthday cake ; verso) from abcd collection. The pictorial space thus becomes the uterine receptacle of everything that exists in the world. In its foldings and meanders, Aloïse leaves, one after the other, "objects-signs" of her identity, made "visible" by the magic of the gaze. By doing this, she manages to recover a certain control of her new world ; consequently, her state improves. Aloïse succeeded in creating a living space in which she could hold as subject. Banished from her own life, every day she devoted herself to the work of fantastical order, similar to a process of mourning. As a mask which reveals what it hides, the works of Aloïse testify to the vital force of the desire which does not give up and finds imaginary paths of fairy-like colors ; it happens where it is still possible, in the enigma of a dream or in the mystery of creation, behind which we can hear the chanting of an infinite echo of the blue eyes.
Many thanks to : Jean-Louis Lanoux, writer and art historian, for his collaboration.
Bibliography : Jacqueline Porret-Forel. Aloïse et le Théâtre de l’Univers, Skira, Geneva, 1993, p. 152.
Jacqueline Forel. Aloïse ou la peinture magique d’une schizophrène, Impr. H. Jaunin, Lausanne, 1953.
Publications de la Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Fascicule 7, Aloïse by Jacqueline Porret-Forel.
a b c d, une collection d’art brut, collective work under the direction of Bruno Decharme, Actes Sud/ a b c d, Paris 2000.
This text has been published in : "Le schizophrène : la vue, le regard" ; published by Bates Healthwdorld for Laboratoires Sanofi Synthélabo.
1 drawing on the back of the coverpage from a book entitled Their steps in the night. Color pencils, 57 x 21 cm.
2 her dress of love of Marie Stuart the wedding dress / kidnapped / adventure in the street on camel. Chalk on wrapping paper, recto verso, 74 x 69,5 cm.
3 page from a notebook of 24 pages : radio of ... cask golden lantern of the earth / the earth buterfly is night / these are Christmas presents ... castle of "valneige". Color pencil, 65,5 x 24,3 cm.
4 empress Ploriette... Eugénie Schönbrunn / castle of "puit" of an angel... the tramway desired... key breach in the night his arm in necklace. color pencil on paper, recto verso, indication on the back : Christmas 1956, 70 x 50 cm.
5 silver gondola... night in Venice... basket / gondola diamond butterly (can also be read as : gondola silver butterfly diamond). color pencil on paper, recto verso, 118 x 42 cm.
6 students one evening in Venice / discovered beloved angel when the sky comes to visit the earth explodes in flowers. color pencil on paper, recto verso, 71 x 66 cm.
7 queen Julianna acclaimed by the crowds is ... godlove. color pencil on paper, recto verso, 68 x 51 cm.
8 blue granadilla ... Happy birthday cake. chalk, color pencil on paper, detail of a drawing recto verso de 369 x 99 cm.