André Cottavoz was born on July 22nd, 1922, in Saint Marcellin in Isère, first child of the young Marguerite (she is hardly 18 years old then) and of her husband Paul Cottavoz. André, called « Doudou » by his grandmother (nickname that he will assume all his life) expresses his passion for painting as soon as he is a teenager. Indeed, he is 14 when his mother surprises him copying a landscape from the « Illustration » gazette. Practicing herself watercolour, she encourages him in this way, buys colors to him and takes him to paint in the nature with her.
She gives him a precious advice which he will never forget : « Paint what you like, a bridge, a tree, a reflection on the water and forget the rest. » He also benefits from Michel Gaudet’s advice, a friend of Renoir living in the area, and regularly works « sur le motif » (from nature) with him, to the great displeasure of his father opposed to a future career as an artist.
At the age of 18, against the advice of his father, but supported by his mother, he enrolled at The Fine Arts School in Lyon to continue his learning. But he is quickly disappointed with academic teaching and frustrated by some « worthy teachers » (it is forbidden to pronounce the name of Cézanne), he does not understand why before painting a nude, he should first have drawn its skeleton, and is excluded from a workshop on the day he arrives, exhibiting a reproduction of Van Gogh in whom he recognizes a Master. His regular attendance is nevertheless rewarded with a mention « for the amount of work performed » !
In 1942, he is obliged to spend two years in the “STO” (forced labour services) in Austria. There, he carried on painting and drawing. He met a talented young artist, the humorist Paul Philibert Charrin. This latter straight away recognizes him as a master and dedicates him an admiration that, according to Frédéric Dard, will become detrimental to his own career. They organize exhibitions of their works together. These pieces unfortunately will be destroyed or lost because of the war.
When he comes back from “STO”, he cumulates studies, drawings and paintings. He knows that he cannot escape from his destiny : he is a painter. However without resources, living by his own wits (but always supported by his mother), he « goes up » to Paris to follow the courses of Paris’ Art School, in order to obtain a diploma and a vacation as a drawing teacher. His passionate temperament, on top of his way of conceiving pictorial art closer to the emotion, does not match with the academic requirements of the school, and he does not obtain the diploma which could have ensured him a regular income. At the same time, he attends the courses of the « Grande Chaumière », where he is reproached to do his own « Cottavoz way ».
In 1946, he exhibits a sight of Paris at the « salon of the young painting », La place d’Ivry which will make him recognized as a rather wellknown figurative painter in the line of Bonnard.
The same year, is held the first salon of non-figuration painting called « les Réalités Nouvelles ». At that time, being qualified of « Bonnardish » painter, is a true disavowal, because times are not ideal for figurative painting. However, faithful to himself, Cottavoz refuses any fashion influences or labels and is more than ever obstinate by his own way of painting, as close as possible to “his own emotion”, will he entrust to Jacques Zeitoun later on.
Back to Lyon, he meets Simone who nicely welcomes him in her big house and where he will have a workshop. She will become his first wife.
In 1948, with friends of The Fine Arts School (Fusaro, Truphémus, Adilon, Charrin, and others…), the group organizes at the chapel of the « Ampère high school » in Lyon, a first exhibition of the « sansistes » which means without « istes » (term by which they express their refusal to carry any label, like Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, etc…). They do not feel really accepted in Lyon, and even if they start to be famous in the area, it is truly Paris’ school which will support the movement (thanks to the meetings resulting from this), and make it possible for the young artists to get in touch with both galleries and art lovers.
In 1949, André obtains a grant at the competitive exam of the National Price of Painting, which confirms him that his own approach is finally the right one. He is then, noticed and advised by the painter Garbell settled in Mirmande, that he will consider, for a long time, as his master in Painting.
In the early 50s, his first stays in Vallauris are at 13 Sicard street where he rents a paintshop. His work is done merely to earn a living with the ceramist Gilbert Valentin, precious moments there when he also meets Picasso and Françoise Gilot. Daring to submit one of his paintings to the appreciation of the master, Picasso, the latter would have declared : « I don’t know if it is good or bad but that interests me ! » 2
In 1950, André Cottavoz obtains a price at the Biennale of Menton. Therefrom in 1952, he presents his paintings at the “Art Vivant” gallery, boulevard Raspail in Paris, and becomes friend with Raymond Cogniat and Georges Besson, respectively director of “Art” newspaper, and art critic for several other papers. At last, in 1953, he receives the first price at « Fénéon reward » which reveals him to the general public and contributes to his fame abroad, particularly in the United States and Japan for his engraved work. His relations with painters such as Garbell, Lanskoy, Saboureau and Tereskovitch make easier his introduction in the circle of the Parisian Art galleries. He then signs up his first contract with the gallery of « Art Vivant », ardently supported by the unfailing Jacques Zeitoun, Art director.
2 Cottavoz’s words expressed to his second wife
From 1953 to 1961, the landscapes of Lyon area, South of France, Italy (Genoa, Vicchio, Florence), Belgium (Ostend, Antwerp…) alternate his important creativity with his nude works, still lifes, portraits of relatives and friends…
Ever since, his meeting with the Japanese amateur Kiyoshi Taménaga in 1957 will be determining for his career. Indeed, in 1960, Taménaga opens his first gallery in Japan, a couple of years before the one in Paris in Matignon avenue.
1961 is obviously as much decisive, as he got struck by landscapes of burnt hills in South of France, Cottavoz produces canvases series on the theme of Burnt Forests, which « doubtless will remain the most tragic fundamental feature in his entire work »3 .
From 1962, a turning point occurs in his life. Further to a conjugal disagreement, he leaves Ste Foy-les-Lyon. He settles down in his own artist studio at Sicard street in Vallauris. Leaving Lyon also means that he has to leave the artists’ circle of his friends and amateurs, but it also signifies that he is extracted from competitions in between artists worried to get a place in the world of Art. A necessary insulation for his way of conceiving painting will follow that period, when the Abstract Art has the favour of the media, galleries and art amateurs.
He also undertakes to leave the gallery « Art Vivant », which does not give him anymore the support he needs.
In Vallauris, he becomes friend with the ceramist Roger Collet. Their mutual esteem favors a natural association, therefore puts ahead the purity of Collet’s shapes and values the spontaneous feature of Cottavoz graphics, which contribute to put on stage the beach, the sun, nudes, more or less erotic dances decorating some of Collet’s works, fruits of their collaboration.
In the summer of 1963, he meets Muriel, 21 years younger than him, who will become his second wife and the mother of his son, Florent. After a short stay in Baux de Provence, they settle at « villa les roses » on Golfe-Juan’s hills. In his workshop of Sicard street, « Doudou » diligently works on large compositions, such as the plain of Baux, bathers by the beach, Paris’ sights …
He allows himself a non-activity interlude by taking a few hours break, relaxing on the « pointu », a fisherman ship bought in Golfe-Juan. Amateur of martial arts, he discovers karate under the aegis of the master Mushisuki, an art to which he will devote twenty years, allowing himself to release the internal violence accumulated during his solitary pictorial struggle with the canvas.
3 Jacques Zeitoun : Cottavoz, Art Vivant Editions
All in all, his hard work, many picnics on the boat, karate, a new circle of friends and admirers, structure his new life on the French Riviera, interspersed with trips and stays in Paris, where he spends time in the lithography workshop of Mourlot. There, he creates many black and white lithographies and coloured ones, including the series illustrating Le dialogue de l’arbre (the dialogue of the tree) from Paul Valery, edited by Robert Turbot, an architect from Cannes, « mad» of Cottavoz painting ; the latter’s admiration and frequent visits to his workshop have reinforced his art in a tremendous way during his setting in Vallauris.
In 1964, Cottavoz signs up an exclusive contract with the Kriegel gallery, created with the complicity of three industrials and nevertheless art lovers Roblin, Mendelovici, Sapiro.
A year later, 1965 is decisive, as the first exhibition takes place at Kriegel’s gallery, where he expresses, against the abstracted trend of the moment his furiously figurative interpretations of the plain of Baux, Venice, Paris, and many other sights …
Several journeys will then renew his inspiration. In 1967, he exhibits two major pieces, Picadilly Circus and the Families. In 1969, after the birth of his son Florent, an exhibition on the theme of the « Maternity» arouses on behalf of an « avant-gardiste » art critic this interrogation : « at the end of the 20th century, how can we still paint such a subject ? »
Later on, Cottavoz leaves his artist studio of Sicard street for a house by the hill built by Robert Turbot, which has a workshop from where we can see Golfe-Juan bay. « In between discovery of new themes and renewed ones, this classical landscape, often found in his work, becomes a major element, varying as often as possible with the seasons and the light 4 ».
In 1976, Muriel leaves the marital home. The divorce is granted in 1977. However André Cottavoz and his second wife remain in friendly way until 1992, his third marriage.
Taménaga still carefully follows the master’s. He organizes in 1972 a Cottavoz exhibition in his Tokyo’s gallery.
Unfortunately, in 1979, the partners of the Kriegel gallery split up.
In 1980, Mrs Jansen of the Matignon gallery kindly hosts his paintings.
In 1987, the exhibition on Venice theme is taken back in Tokyo at Taménaga’s, date of Cottavoz first journey in Japan. A year earlier, took place at the « Tour d’Argent » of Tokyo, the inauguration of the hanging of a very large Cottavoz canvas representing Notre Dame de Paris.
In the late 80s, Cottavoz grants the exclusive sale of his paintings to Taménaga gallery, then we can say that from that time, until his death in 2012, almost all of his works are located in Japan. During a second trip in Tokyo, Taménaga orders to the artist a view of Mount Fuji-Yama, sacred figure among all. To do so, he puts a workshop at his disposal. Once finished, Taménaga does not hesitate to demolish the roof to take possession of his canvas !
In 1990, André meets Hélène, his third wife who shares his life in his Vallauris’ house, until the painter’s death on July 8, 2012. She accompanies him to Japan, Bali, Morocco, Hong Kong, etc… as many sites which renew, not only his inspiration, but also a kind of liberation of the tension, to finally succeed in a pictorial apotheosis, synthesizing his accurate look, linked with the emotion and power of the gesture.
At last, it should be noted that in 2005, the municipality offered to the painter (discreet citizen of Vallauris for nearly 50 years), already rewarded by the Knight of Arts and Letters Academy and internationally recognized, a major retrospective of his entire work at the Magnelli Museum of the city.