October 13, 2010

Jean Prosper Gilis, Gilis à Barras

 this picture and the next two
 courtesy of Art Insolite Amis

Jean Prosper Gilis (1907-1974) was a mason who lived in a small community in the south of France in the Bergerac area. In 1968, at age 61, he began transforming the garden around his house into kind of a garden of Eden, decorating it with brightly colored sculptures made of cement, manly depicting a variety of animals. 

Some sculptures represent personalities, like the famous French marshal le Clerc and general Charles de Gaulle, but it is obvious Gilis preferred to make sculptures of animals.

Gilis has been making these creations for some five, six years, and since he suffered from sciatica, he must have needed a lot of willpower and energy to pursue his creative activity. As he got sicker, he made his creations lying on a stretcher.

It appears that one of the statues, presumably depicting de Gaulle, in reality is a self-portrait of Gilis, which -because time was pressing- was mounted upon a torso of the general. This must have been the last sculpture Gilis made (This information by Jean-François Maurice on the weblog of Jean-Michel Chesné, see below in the documentation).

Jean Prosper Gillis died in 1974. In 2010, when this post was first published, the garden still existed, but it was clear that the sculptures gradually were loosing their colours and that the seasons had taken their toll.

picture of the garden (summer 2010) 
courtesy of Sophie Lepetit, from her weblog
Madame Gilis had become too old to take care of the garden and there was no one around to help her.

The internet has no reports of the site's situation in later years.

The garden was a sweet, small monument reflecting former times, a testimonial to the creativity and perseverance of a modest man from a former generation, whose creations hardly anyone cares about today.

Documentation/more pictures
* The weblog of Jean Michel Chesné  has two notes (here and here) with pictures of and information  about Gilis' life and works (October/November 2010)
* Pictures from a visit (2010) by Sophie Lepetit have been published on her weblog 
* The site got a review in:  Bruno Montpied, Le gazouillis des éléphants.  Editions du Sandre, 2017. 
* Entry on the website Habitants-Paysagistes (Lille Art Museum), with pictures of the sculptures

Jean Prosper Gilis
Gilis a Barras
47500 Bonaguil, dept Lot-et-Garonne, regio Nouvelle Aquitaine, France
no public visits
actual situation unclear

first published October 2010, lats revised June 2021


  1. Hi Henk ! Greetings... I've been away for a while, was in the US for a few weeks, and am only slowly getting back up to speed here.

    I can't help but wonder if there is an infinite supply of outsider art sites in Europe... you continue to find new ones month in and month out. Amazing how many people have been inspired to create, to leave their mark, even if only in a small way, on their personal environment.

    While in the US I visited a small house / museum, which could very well be considered an outsider art site, created by a gentleman named Wharton Esherick. If you are not already familiar with him, there is alot of info about him on the web, he was quite famous in a small way. His house is simply beautiful, as are his sculptures, paintings, and etchings.

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Owen, Welcome back home. I noted you made a lot of pictures during your holidays. I love the ones you published so far, diners, trains, houses with flags, trailers people live in, all with a specific atmosphere and shot with that special feeling of yours.
    My series of "environments" indeed is going on and on.....did'nt know this when I started, but surprises keep up coming.
    Yes, I know about Esherick, especially his woodwork. A Pensylvanian Icon. Will be glad to see your photographic impression of him.
    And I hope you mastered your jet lag :-))