Carole Weisweiller

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen

Entrance Villa Santo Sospir, Cap Ferrat 2013


Stepping inside the gates of Madame Weisweiller’s Villa Santo-Sospir in Cap Ferrat on the Cote d’Azur, you are embarking upon a unique lesson in art history.

Mart Engelen: How was it for you as a child to grow up with all these famous artists who frequented your mother’s house and how old were you?
Carole Weisweiller: I met Jean Cocteau when I was 7-years old, and I was 21 when he died. I met Cocteau at the end of 1949 during the shooting of a film, which was not directed by him, called Les enfants terribles. The leading actress was Nicole Stéphane. Her real name was Nicole de rothschild and she was a cousin of my father. Nicole knew that my mother [Francine Weisweiller] wanted to meet Cocteau and she invited her onto the set. There was an immediate coup de foudre of friendship between Cocteau and my mother. At the time, the direc- tor, Jean-Pierre Melville, was looking for a grand staircase and salon for the film. My cousin Nicole was living on the first floor of our hôtel particulier, 4 Place des Etats-unis in Paris and knew that it had a grand staircase. My mother persuaded my father to allow the whole crew to come to our house to film. That is exactly how I met Cocteau that day. I was very impressed by everything. Cocteau found me in my little nightgown and he asked me, “Are you going to see the film in the cinema when it’s ready?” I said, “Yes, of course.” Then he said, “What if your parents don’t agree?” and I replied, “I will steal money to go to the cinema.” Three months later, after the film had been edited, my mother invited Cocteau to our house in Cap Ferrat for a week to rest. My parents had bought the house in 1945: during the war, my father had said to my mother, “If we can escape the Holocaust, I will buy you your dream house.” And so he did. My father didn’t much like Cap Ferrat, he pre- ferred Normandy but my mother only liked the south. They were not meant to be together. After four or five days, Cocteau asked my mother if he could do a drawing over the fireplace because there were no pictures on the walls. And eventually he did all the walls of the house. Two years later he did the ceiling.
ME: So he actually did the whole house, Villa Santo-Sospir, in two years?
CW: No, he did it even faster, in five months.
ME: While he was on holiday in Villa Santo-Sospir?
CW: No, No!! Cocteau was never on holiday. He was always working. ME: Do you have a favourite mural he did?
CW: I think the one I love is the one in my bedroom. It is Bacchus with his dog. He is a little bit drunk and it is very beautiful.
ME: And was that also your bedroom when you were a child in Santo- Sospir?
CW: Yes.
ME: You mentioned in a book that Jean Cocteau was like a second father to you. Can you tell me more about this?
CW: I think that Jean Cocteau always dreamed of having children. When he met my mother, I and the daughter of his adoptive son Edouard Dermit were more or less the same age. He really thought of us like family; he participated in our life. When I spent my holidays in Santo-Sospir, Cocteau was already in his sixties and I was ten. But he was really like a friend.
ME: How would you describe his nature?
CW: He had a wonderful heart. He loved people and he loved to be loved. That was very important to him. He had missed out on family life because his father had committed suicide when he was seven. He needed to have a family and he was very happy with us as a family. Sometimes he became quite concerned if people did not answer his letters but he was very nice and warm. He used to say the real intelligentsia are the intelligentsia of the heart.
ME: I have seen a beautiful picture of you, Cocteau and Pi- casso in the arenas d’Arles during a bullfight when you were very young. What was Picasso like as a person?
CW: Picasso was very different. He was very funny and
had a very strong character. He always wanted to be right. But I liked that a lot. He was totally different from Cocteau but they were really close friends. Cocteau was always very worried about what Picasso would think of his art. When Picasso visited Cocteau’s work in the Chapel of Villefranche, Cocteau was like a little boy waiting for the opinion of his teacher.
ME: Did Picasso love Cocteau’s art?
CW: I don’t know. There was a real friendship between the two men but Picasso only loved what he created himself. He was very egocentric. On the other hand, we had a wonderful time with him, he was very funny. We were not overawed by him. Of course it was Picasso but he was very close to young people. For both of them, there was no difference between famous and obscure, young and old, rich and poor. The only quality these men asked was the quality of the heart. And intelligence of course.
ME: Between 1950 and 1962 Villa Santo-Sospir was a play- ground for artists and everybody who went there. In 1960, your mother fell in love with the writer Henri Viard.
CW: Yes, but it’s not necessary to talk about that. It’s not interesting.
ME: right. Cocteau left Santo-Sospir and he died not long after.
CW: Yes.
ME: But what happened at the Villa Santo-Sospir after 1963?
CW: Nothing really changed. We spent our holidays there and for the last fifteen years of her life my mother lived most of the time in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. She did not want to be in Paris anymore.
ME: You have said in earlier interviews that your mother was outspoken and had a special character. What do you mean by special character?
CW: She was very intelligent but her point of view was quite definite. It was very difficult to argue with her. We were very different. She was a beautiful woman but in the last twenty years of her life she had many physical problems and she was ill for much of the time. When she was 45 years old, the doctors told my father that she did not have much more time. But she died when she was 86.
ME: What is your best memory of Villa Santo-Sospir?
CW: I have a lot of good memories but one of the best was the little cocktail that Cocteau made for us every day on the terrace. He took the recipes from the books of Peter Cheyney, who was a writer of detective novels. He had lots of problems too, but he always liked to enjoy life.
ME: What is really special is that after all these years the house is still privately owned and you still spend your holi- days here.
CW: Yes, but I have had a lot of problems since my mother died. She made a lot of mistakes, not least her will which gave fifty per cent of everything she had to a rogue, a second cousin. Including fifty per cent of Villa Santo-Sospir. And he of course wants to sell Santo-Sospir to get the money. I have to find a solution because I can’t afford it anymore and I am the only one who pays the bills because I don’t want him to come to Santo-Sospir. There is a lot to restore, including the frescos. My plan is to leave the house to a sort of conserva- toire du littoral (coastal protection agency). We have also formed an association of Friends of Santo-Sospir. We hire the house out for lunches and dinners and allow people to visit by appointment. I really am trying to do everything to protect the house.
ME: Did growing up with famous artists during your child- hood influence your views on art?
CW: Certainly. I am not totally aware of it but, yes, because I used to go to museums, I was brought up with beautiful things around me. It was my first view of the world. We travelled a lot with Jean Cocteau.
ME: How is life at Santo-Sospir now?
CW: Well, nothing has changed really. When I am here, I invite friends for lunch or dinner. We have a wonderful time, the house is still very alive. For a while after Cocteau left it felt rather dead, but now you’ll see that Cocteau has come back! It’s very alive, like it was when Cocteau was here.


Carole Weisweiller

Right: Edward Quinn, Jean Cocteau at Villa Santo Sospir, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat 1952