January 10, 2009

Martial Besse, Le Jardin des Supplices/The Torture Garden


photo's by Jean-Francois Maurice 
as published in Zon'art ¹

Life and works

Martial Besse (1921), from the community of Bournel in France was a farmer, who also worked as a hairdresser and as a barman.

In 1952 he began decorating his garden with sculptures, using wood and cement. He depicted women, totems and all kind of animals. Many of his creations had a connotation of submission, menace and (occasionaly humoristic) sexual phantasy.


In 2004, due to his age, Besse had to move to another home and his house and garden were sold. Although he had arranged with the buyer that the sculptures would be maintained, as far as I understand there has been another sale and the next buyer demolished the garden.

Martial Besse himself may have got the opportunity to save just a small number of his creations, but their whereabouts remain unknown.

The name of the site

Neither do I know for sure if Martial Besse himself used the name "Jardin des supplices". French art critic Jeanine Rivais uses it, but french writer Bruno Montpied in his Éloge des jardins anarchiques, just refers to "the garden". In an article (in french) in Zon'art 4 ¹ Jean-Francois Maurice has described the garden and noted its dark and subversive connotations, naming it a Black Garden of Eden. Laurent Danchin in Raw Vision 41 (2002/3) denotes the garden as Paradis Noir (Black Paradise)

The name Jardin des Supplices will have to do with the book by french author Octave Mirbeau, Le Jardin des Supplices (1899), which although being a critique on morals of bourgeois society, is best known by its erotic scenes in a beautiful garden (as also highlighted by a french movie from 1974 with the same title). 

Documentation/more pictures
* Article by Jean-François Maurice in Gazogène
* Article by Jeanine Rivais in Bulletin de l'association les amis de François Ozenda, nr 66, jan 2000
* Article in the weblog of Sophie Lepetit, april 2012, with a series of pictures by Raymon Loewenthal
* Entry on SPACES website, with pictures by Jeanine Rivais
* Pictures on the Art Insolite website 
* Website Habitants-paysagistes (by Lille Art Museum from march 2018 on) has a series of pictures by Francis David (1991) and documentary panels by André Escard (1984-2008)

note
¹  the magazine Zon'art is no longer available on the internet

first published jan 2009, last revised march 2018

Martial Besse
Le jardin des supplices
(formerly) Bournel, Acquitaine, France
site demolished

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