May 29, 2011

Camille Renault, Le jardin des surprises/The garden of surprises

Pictures of the Garden of surprises by Camille Renault (1866-1954) are rare. The Art Insolite website has some reprints from french Revue Bizarre (1955) and from a book by Charles Soubeyran. And there must be photographs in private collections, but I could not trace sources to ask permission to republish pictures here.

Neither has the internet a number of entries dealing with his life and works. So preparing the first version of this post, I drew heavily upon the french Wikipédia article. Some months later I could add factual data to this text after I had acquired an article by Jean-Hugues Sainmont (see documentation).

Life and works

Camille Renault was born in Omont in the Ardennes area in France. As a young man he worked as a cook in Paris restaurants Returned to his home area, he settled in Attigny where he married (1898) and had various jobs, ultimately managing the Hotel de la Gare, where he also would organise all kinds of events (big banquets, theater- and film shows, concerts).

He also began making sculptures from concrete. When in 1934 his house was destroyed by a fire, he turned the garden of his new house into a Garden of Surprise by displaying there his sculptures of people and animals.

In 1940, at the outset of the war, Renault fled to the south of France. When later that year he returned to Attigny, he found the house and garden devastated by a bombardment and subsequent looting.

On another spot, some 300 m further, Renault began once again. He built a new house and created a new art environment around it. If damaged sculptures from the former site could be repaired, he himself transported them to the new site.

The sculptures mainly depicted life-sized personalities, like a trio of musicians and people from the countryside doing their daily affairs. He would apply a paste of a mixture of concrete and other materials to a framework made up of all kind of iron parts (cooking pans, parts from old bicycles and so on). 

Camille Renault also assembled the furniture for the new house and created its decorations.

After the war he was invited to become a member -with the relatively special title of satrape- of the prestigeous Collège de 'Pataphysique, which was founded in 1948 in Paris by a group of french artists and writers (like Dubuffet, Ionesco, Prévert and Vian),

Camille Renault died in 1954. After his death his art environment once more was vandalized and destroyed. Only some works have been saved (in the ABCD and in the l'Aracine collections).

* Set of pictures on the Art Insolite website
* Pascal Sigoda, Le jardin des surprises du transcendant satrape Camille Renault, 1985 (catalogue of an exposition in Charleville in honour of Renault, 1985)
* Jean-Hugues Sainmont, "Camille Renault, créateur du monde",  in Les Amis de la Grive, no 166, Charleville-Mézières, 2002. (this is a reprint of the article by Sainmont in the Revue Bizarre, nr 2, october 1955, p. 2-18; the text is not available on the internet)
* Roberta Trapani, La cabane éclatée. Morcellement des objets immobiliers apparentés à l’art brut (The exploded cabin. Splitting up structures related to art brut) (Les cahiers de l’École du Louvre, 2014-4). In this essay the author discusses Camille Renault’s garden in the context of a review of the artistic potential of individual items of a devastated art environment

first published may 2011, last revised aug 2018

Camille Renault
Le jardin des surprises
Attigny, dept Ardennes, region Grand Est, France
site destroyed

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