Meet the British artist whose images of French life have won him fans on both sides of the Channel
Richard Cole’s new book features the beautiful villages of the Isère department, where he has a studio
The rural landscape of Isère has been captured in a new book by a British artist with a longstanding love for this south-easterly department.
Richard Cole is a political cartoonist whose work has appeared in the likes of the Times, the Sunday Telegraph and the Guardian, and he is also the author-illustrator of two books depicting Isère’s magnificent communes. The latest, Balades dans les Villes de l’Isère: Vue d’un Artiste, is a sumptuously illustrated guide to some of his favourite destinations in the area, while the first, Portrait of a French Village, focuses on the village of Saint-Geoire-en-Valdaine, where he has a studio.
Find out what made him ‘tomber amoureux’ with this part of France and his artistic inspirations.
FRANCE Magazine: Can you sum up Balades dans les Villes de l’Isère in a nutshell?
Richard Cole: Balades dans les Villes de l’Isère, Vue d’un Artiste is a personal and affectionate view of the towns and villages around my studio in St-Geoire-en-Valdaine that I have known for over 50 years.
Which was your favourite commune to paint in – aside from St-Geoire, of course!
RC: I enjoyed drawing and painting in all the communes over the years noting how they had changed, but I think the one I enjoyed working in, with the exception of St-Geoire which is very special, is Crémieu that I visited for the first time five years ago whilst researching the book. It is the closest town to Lyon and has some remarkable historic buildings. It was the excitement of finding somewhere new and interesting that inspired me, and I viewed it with fresh eyes.
Out of all the places depicted, which would you most recommend our readers to take a stroll in and why?
RC: I think of the towns, Crémieu for the reasons stated, but of the villages, St-Geoire-en-Valdaine with its seven châteaux, the 12th-century church, my 16th-century forge and studio, and its friendly inhabitants.
How did you come to buy a studio there?
RC: I did a painting and a lithograph of the beautiful old forge in 1981 because I admired it, with an old man carrying a round loaf (couronne) up the steep hill alongside it. I called the painting, ‘The Uphill Struggle to Bring Home the Bread.’ It’s not a title that would translate into French!
The forge came up for sale 10 years later and I just had to buy it! It was in a bad condition so I spent three times what I had paid for it restoring it into a studio, exhibition space and living accomodation. It has been a joy ever since. I have an exhibition of my work there every summer during the last fortnight in August, and for ‘Les Journées du Patrimoine’ in September.
How did the residents receive you, a British artist depicting life in their rural village?
RC: Being English wasn’t a problem and having a Scottish friend living in the village was a great help, but I found the residents were very friendly and after they had seen the drawings and portraits I had done of them, saw that I was enamoured with their village, and I enjoyed very much their lifestyle, I was accepted. I have found from experience that the French have a great respect for artists, more so than the English, which was also a great advantage.
Who or what has been your favourite thing to paint in St-Geoire?
RC: The place I most enjoyed working in was the Café Madame Allier. It had a wonderful atmosphere and she was a very generous hostess. Monsieur Allier, when he wasn’t busy serving behind the bar, ran a card school with his friends who were great characters to draw. I would settle down at a table and start sketching them. The wine would flow, my caricatures naturally became more exaggerated. They were enjoyed by the customers and a hilarious time was had by all! Sadly those days have now passed with their deaths. The café has become a coiffeuse, and the only remaining café in the village alas now plays scratchcards!
How has the village changed since you arrived?
RC: Where do I start? The village has changed a lot. Many of the friends I made in the old days have died, but for me I am pleased to say that they live on in my drawings and paintings. The butcher, the baker, the café owners, the old soldier, the mayor, the count and countess at the château, neighbours and friends. Many shops have closed because of the competition from the large supermarkets. Because of the pressures of modern life, people don’t have time to sit in the village square to relax anymore or play boules alongside the church. The boules court was eventually removed to make way for more parking, but the village still retains its charm!
Which French artists are you most inspired by?
RC: The French artists I most admire are: Daumier because he was a cartoonist as well as a painter; Toulouse Lautrec; Matisse; Soutine; and Picasso.
What kind of art/illustration work do you prefer – political cartoons or French landscapes?
RC: I have always felt that when I was in England I was a cartoonist, but in France I had the freedom to work as an artist. No daily deadlines!
If you didn’t have your studio in St-Geoire, where else in France would you love to have one and why?
RC: I think I would love to have one in Vieux Lyon. I have done a lot of paintings in the city and it will be the subject of my next book.
Both of Richard’s books are available via his website or on Amazon.
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