May 20, 2023

Marcel Bernier, Maison décorée / Decorated house

this picture and the next one courtesy of
Francis David

In the image above Marcel Bernier was photographed standing in front of his decorated home when Francis David, a researcher of art environments in France, paid him a visit in the late 1970s, early 1980s. 

Not much has been published on the internet about the life of Marcel Bernier. He was born in 1912, worked at a chemical factory, and retired in 1977.

In the early 1970s he started decorating his house along the rue Maurice Schumann in Creil, a city of some 120.000 inhabitants (2015), 45 km north of Paris in the Oise department in northern France. 

Every year in the summer period Bernier would paint the outside walls, this with the approach: "When the jar is empty, it's over."

Bernier's house has been said to lean against a hill. Indeed, it is located on the southern edge of a hilly area in the city that traditionally has many old limestone quarries. 

This area of quarries is located between rue Robert Schuman and rue du Haut des Tufs and is crossed in length by a walking path Allée des Tufs, which starts near the house of Marcel Bernier (see Google Maps)

Using the tuff, a soft sandstone, the emptied quarries were traditionally converted into dwellings, called troglodytes. Particularly in the 19th century, when increasing industrialization in Creil drew many workers from the surrounding countryside, living in troglodytes boomed.

photo city of Creil, as on newspaper le Parisien

The image above shows some of the 19th century buildings in the area with troglodytes.

The municipal authorities, who were forced to tolerate this form of housing, allowed residents to live for free, but sought to phase out such housing because of its potential insecurity.

Bernier's house was also part of the troglodyte area, although located at the very edge. 

Around 1990, when he was almost 80 years, Marcel Bernier, for security reasons, also left the house. Maybe he moved to a home for the elderly. At an unknown date in later years he passed away. 

The house was not demolished, but it was left uninhabited, and soon it became obscured by springing green bushes.  

the Allée des tufs begins between the two lampposts on the left,
parts of the facade of Bernier's house appear on the right
as in April 2022

Bernier's decorated house fell into oblivion. When in the late 2020s inquiries were made about the site, the local tourist office did not know of its existence.

So, on the Facebook-page of the city in January 2021, on behalf of the tourist office, residents were asked whether they were familiar with the decorated house. This indeed produced positive responses, with remarks such as: I knew this house all my youth and It was a delight all these colors.

Apparently measures have been taken to give Bernier's house a place in society again. The photo below shows the situation in November 2022 (photo courtesy of Sonia Terhzaz)

Entry on the website Habitants-paysagistes (Lille Art Museum)
* Article (February 2021) in regional newspaper Le Parisien

Marcel Bernier, Decorated house
Rue Robert Schumann 77
Creil, dept Oise, region Hauts- de-France, France
house left uninhabited for over 30 years

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