262. Sophie Grandval

The Twenty-Eight Phases of the Moon
(December, 2015)
Size: 60 × 30 cm
Oil on canvas

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In 2012, at the first Every Object Tells a Story exhibition at Jean-Claude Ciancimino’s gallery, I showed a watercolour by Sophie, painted at least 40 years ago, a wonderfully delicate composition with a floral Hermetic figure. I am reprinting my introduction to her then, since it came partly from a conversation we had the last time I saw her:

‘I first met Sophie Grandval in Paris in the mid-1960s, when I was a student and she was already a legend. Her first exhibition had caused a sensation, and every painting sold on the opening night. They have a powerful, naïve magic about them that seems to enchant all who look at them. She worked mainly in oils, but when Mrs Mellon commissioned her to paint all the vegetables and plants in the King’s Vegetable Garden at Versailles in the early 1970s, she turned to watercolour. In 1973 she moved to Bath, mainly to be near John Michell, whom she considered the only person who saw the world as she did. Her rooms there were extraordinarily atmospheric, festooned with dried flowers, strange gee-gaws, illustrations from magazines and books, and perfumed with the pungent aroma of hashish. On one visit she informed me that the previous evening she had been drinking in a pub when she realized that the Devil was sitting on the bar-stool next to her. This news was so surprising that I missed the opportunity to ask her what he was drinking.’

Now she lives in Burgundy, and on my last visit there she told me this: ‘I’ve got used to living alone in this remote part of France. Sometimes it’s hard, but I like my solitude. I know what goes on in the world because I listen to the radio a lot while I paint. Instead of looking outwards I now look within, and find the same beauty there. I feed all the birds in the forest around my studio where I live since the house burned down, and only let the cats out at night when the birds are asleep. There are six jays who leave beautiful feathers to thank me for the food. I provide nuts for the squirrels who come to the door, and apples for the horses in the field next-door.’

Sophie in her studio