Saint–Brice, Robert (1898–1973)

128. Loas_
c1969 (24x30)

   St–Brice, who began painting in the early 1940s, was among the first to associate the vodou goddess (lwa) Erzulie Dantor with the Virgin Mary — at least outside vodou temple art. The linkage has been fiercely denounced by Roman Catholic authorities.
   One of the most original and highly prized 'first generation' painters, St–Brice presaged the Saint–Soleil school. (See Louisiane St–Fleurant, below.)

   I bought this work from a hole-in-the-wall gallery not far from the Olofsson Hotel. The place was jam-packed with paintings, most of them not very good. Finding a St–Brice was ... a real find.

     Saint–Croix, Jean–Claude (1957  –   )

44. Cérémonie vodou
c1979 (20x24)



78. Rural Ceremony
c1985 (24x36)


 204. Revolutionary Generals
c1999 (12x16)

   St–Croix, another of Philomé Obin's many students, began painting in 1974. He is a superb narrative artist. Some consider him the finest living Cap–Haïtien painter.

     Saint–Fleurant, Louisiane (1922–2005)

59. 'Erzulie Dantor'_
1979 (26x34)

   St–Fleurant is one of the founders — and the most famous and influential member — of the Saint–Soleil school, sometimes called a 'peasant commune.' Others who are or have been St–Soleil artists include Levoi Exil, Prospère Pierre–Louis, and St–Fleurant's sons Ramfis and Stivenson Magliore. Going blind, St–Fleurant stopped painting in the mid–1990s.
   The Saint–Soleil school was 'discovered' by André Malraux — writer, art critic, and French President Charles DeGaulle's culture minister in the 1960s. Malraux promoted the school's artists by writing about them and by sponsoring a 1974 exhibit of their work in Paris. He also devoted a full chapter of his final work, L'Intemporal, to the St–Soleil painters. He declared that their work is absolutely original, that it owes nothing to any other artistic tradition — an untrue proposition, but an endearing slice of French exuberance.

154. Loas
1990 (24x30)

   I was lucky to get Erzulie Dantor. My companion on a 1979 visit had dissuaded me from buying it. She was probably right: I'd already purchased a dozen paintings.
   I was back in Cap–Haïtien a year later, alone. Denis Villard, husband of the gallery's co–owner, Genou, remembered me and recalled that I had bought a small St–Fleurant (since sold) the year before.
'Yes,' I said,' but the one I really wanted was on the back wall — over there.'
'We still have it!,' Denis exclaimed. The gallery then sold me Erzulie for what it had been asking the year before. That was more than generous, since the work had since appeared in a Paris Vogue featureH on Haïti and Haitian art. Publication of that sort usually enhances a work's value — or, at least, its asking price. (A young woman I had met in Jacmel, and with whom I spoke by phone from Le Cap, later sent me a reprint of the article.)

   More remarkably, Denis then invited me to a New



Year's Eve party in a large home just outside Le Cap. I took as my guest the Frenchwoman who managed my hotel. 'I've lived here seven years,' she marveled, 'and I've never been invited to a Haitian's home.'
The evening featured dancing to a lively band, champagne glasses refilled almost after every sip, pleasant conversation, and a fabulous buffet.
A couple of hours after midnight, Denis asked me if I liked Barbancourt rhum. I said I did. He delivered a case of the five–star variety to my hotel before getting into his Mercedes–Benz and driving to Port–au–Prince the next morning. The rhum is long gone; the St–Fleurant and the memories remain.



H The text claims that Saint-Soleil artists rarely sign their paintings. That was true only of some of them and mostly in the school's first few years. In a display of Gallic logic, however, some Paris Vogue editor made the photograph accord with the text: s/he cropped out St-Fleurant's signature.


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