Weisweiller, who died in France last December 18 was
one of the last of a breed of rich women who came to maturity
before the women’s movement who forged their identities
through total patronage of the arts and especially the artist.
Madame Weisweiller established herself in the historical context
of the career of Jean Cocteau. The following is her story,
as told in an obituary from the Telegraph of London.
Weisweiller, who has died aged 87, was the devoted if
long-suffering patron of the avant-garde painter, poet, writer
and film-maker, Jean Cocteau.
Cocteau, Edouard Dermit, Henri-Georges Clouzot,
and Francine Weisweiller (right) with friends,
In the words of John Richardson, Picasso's
biographer, Madame Weisweiller, was an "exquisitely dressed,
excessively spoiled little beauty", who appointed herself as
Cocteau's muse. Cocteau proved to be "the man who came to dinner":
he accepted an invitation to stay at her villa on Cap Ferrat, and
remained a more or less permanent fixture for the next 12 years.
Cocteau did not arrive alone. He brought with him his dreamily silent
boyfriend (or "adopted son"), Edouard Dermit,
who had been his gardener and was put into some of his films; later,
they were joined by Dermit's sister, Emilienne.
The group, John Richardson has recalled, "would spend their
summers together bound together as much by mutual admiration - a
sort of collective narcissism - as by opium".
This not wholly unpredictable arrangement came about as Cocteau ran
out of funds when making the film of Les Enfants Terribles in
1949. The director, Jean-Pierre Melville, had the
ingenious idea of seeking the richest woman they could find, a person
of no artistic merit, yet anxious to be noticed in artistic circles.
They found Francine Weisweiller, in whose Paris home, No 4 Place
des Etats-Unis, part of the film was being made. She came up trumps,
was soon being addressed by Cocteau as "My dear friend",
and proceeded to invite Cocteau and his ménage to stay with
her in May 1950, at Santo-Sospir, her summer villa near the lighthouse
Cocteau settled in, relishing the views of the Mediterranean from
the terraces and gardens thick with hibiscus. Luxury was offered
to him, and like a cat, he curled up and purred. He loved the afternoon
excursions in the Weisweiller yacht, Orphée II, the
chauffeur-driven Bentley always to hand, and the visits to Greece,
Spain and St Moritz - where the hairdresser, Alexandre,
would ply his way about the Palace Hotel, demonstrating new hairstyles
to his ladies.
The relationship was not a sexual one, and in many respects it was
cosy and happy. When at the villa, the party seldom dined out, accepting
invitations only from Aly Khan, the Begum
Aga Khan and the Agnellis. They entertained
Picasso, Marlene Dietrich, Garbo, and other such
was Cocteau unwilling to sing for his supper. While staying with
Francine, he wrote his play, Bacchus, which he dedicated
to her. He covered part of the wall above a fireplace with his
distinctive line drawings; and once he had started, he was unable
to stop until, two years later, every wall of the villa was covered
with fish-like profiles, phallic symbols, eyes and arabesques.
Madame Weisweiller looked on enraptured as her salon was transformed
into a Cocteau aquarium. He, meanwhile, found himself, he said,
living with people he loved and becoming "a kind of Tibetan
Francine Weisweiller was born Francine Worms in
Brazil on June 9 1916, the daughter of Armand Worms,
a prosperous French Jew who had emigrated to Sao Paolo and opened
a jeweller's shop. A fair-sized family fortune derived from Armand's
mother, a member of the Deutsch de la Meurthe family,
from Alsace, which had developed the automobile and aviation industry,
and introduced the first petrol pumps into France.
In 1919, when Francine was three, the family returned to France.
She was a beautiful child, with golden locks, who escaped from home
by marrying at 17, and then divorcing a few months later. Her parents
were horrified and disowned her for a time; so she earned her living
in Paris as a beautician with Elizabeth Arden. At
the outbreak of the Second World War she nursed wounded soldiers
Her parents swiftly retreated to Sao Paolo, but by this time Francine
had met Alec Weisweiller, a banker and racehorse
owner whose fortune derived from Shell Oil. They fell in love, departed
for the free zone of the Côte d'Azur after the invasion of
France and were married in June 1941, Francine becoming part heiress
to his fortune. A daughter, Carole, was (by her
own account) conceived on the beach near the Cap d'Antibes, and born
Although Jewish, the Weisweillers remained in the South of France,
sometimes under the name "Lelestrier", and Francine stole
lemons from gardens for her infant. For much of the war the family
was itinerant in France.
In the late 1940s they moved into No 4 Place des Etats-Unis (a Deutsch
de la Meurthe house), where their neighbours were Marie-Laure
de Noailles, and the Duchesse de la Rochefoucauld.
Resembling the film-star Veronica Lake, Francine
lived an elegant life, with couture clothes made for her by Lucien
Lelong and Balenciaga, and scarves by Roger
Vivier. She was an important early patron of Yves
Saint Laurent, who ever afterwards dressed her for free
in gratitude. In the decoration and adornment of her homes, she was
much influenced by Madeleine Castaing.
well ordered and well arranged until Jean Cocteau appeared in her
life. She was ready for him, since she was beginning to find the
rich society of haute juiverie restricting, and longing to be a
figure in Tout Paris. Her meeting with Cocteau proved the way forward,
there being a neat balance between his need for substantial funding
and her desire for advancement into a bright new world. Francine
was essentially a lonely woman, not devoid of sentiment, and she
was happy to put her fortune at the disposal of her very own genius-in-residence.
They were soon inseparable.
a bullfight in Vallauris: Cocteau with Jacqueline
Picasso, Picasso, and Francine Weisweiller, circa
The Weisweiller ménage was arranged in a civilised manner.
Alec, the husband, lived mainly in Paris, where his mistress was
the actress, Simone Simon (star of The Cat People and La
Ronde). He seldom appeared in the South of France. When the
family was in Paris, Alec presided at the dinners, and was on good
terms with Cocteau, who lived elsewhere. But he was jealous of Cocteau's
role in the life of his daughter Carole, who saw Cocteau as a surrogate
Francine introduced Cocteau to her brother, who ran Editions
du Rocher and who from then on published Cocteau's work. When
Cocteau suffered a near fatal heart attack in Paris in 1954, he was
immediately moved into Francine's house on the Place des Etats-Unis,
where the best cardiologists were summoned to attend him.
Francine was also to the fore in the campaign to secure Cocteau election
to the French Academy. All the necessary figures were lavishly entertained.
In 1955 Cocteau was duly elected, and Mauriac welcomed him with a
sharp profile in the Figaro Litteraire. "He did not
stumble into our Assembly dazed. He has had his eye fixed on the
door for quite some time, waiting for it to open a crack so that
he could slip in."
For the introduction ceremony, he ordered his costume from Lanvin,
and he required a special sword. Madame Weisweiller commissioned
this from Cartier, with Picasso designs on the hilt, a handle resembling
a Greek profile, and representations of the Palais-Royal and Cocteau's
own signature. Twelve thousand people queued for 700 seats to hear
his provocative speech of acceptance; Queen Elisabeth of
the Belgians, literary figures and journalists were in the
Cupola, all of them invited by Cocteau. In June 1956 Francine was
again at his side when he collected an honorary doctorate of literature
from Oxford University.
Francine even played a cameo role in Cocteau's pretentious film, Le
Testament d'Orphée, dressed in a second empire Balenciaga
dress, and accompanied by her own butler. Some scenes were filmed
at Santo-Sospir and some on her yacht. And so it seemed set to continue;
but after an attack of bronchitis at Kitzbuhl in 1957, Francine's
health began to fail. The bronchitis later became chronic, and as
the years went by, in the words of her daughter, she wore the illness
like "a second skin".
Then, in 1960, aged 45, she felt the need to seduce. As her daughter
put it, a bad writer nicknamed "Mirliflore" (his real name
was Henri Viard) caught her in his web and imposed
his presence on the family. John Richardson described him as "more
macho, less obtrusive". Meanwhile, according to Cocteau's perceptive
biographer Frederick Brown, Francine tired of having
Cocteau in the house. He demanded from her "the undivided attention
of a mother, the ready spirit of a playmate, and the devotion of
a cultist". Quarrels and arguments became frequent, until Cocteau
packed his bags and retreated to Villefranche, finally settling for
good at his home at Milly-la-Forêt.
Jean Marais tried to breach the rift,
but Francine remained cool until October 1963, when she
paid Cocteau a visit, hoping to effect a reconciliation.
She was greeted with his words: "You bring death
with you!" And so it proved. On October 11 1963, Edith
Piaf died and Cocteau was engrossed in delivering
tributes to her, one of which was broadcast on French
radio. Attempting to answer a telephone call about another
Piaf tribute, he suffered a pulmonary oedema and died.
Francine attended his funeral.
The later years were sad. The Weisweiller fortune dissolved "like
snow in the sun"; the Paris house and collections were sold.
Estranged from her husband, and sometimes resented by her daughter,
Francine retreated to a lonely life at Santo-Sospir. The villa went
to sleep, the telephone did not ring, the hall table was devoid of
letters. All that remained were Cocteau's adornments.
Francine lived on in poor health, past the celebrations in France
marking the 40th anniversary of Cocteau's death this year, and died
at the villa on December 8.