Parisian Insights: Antoinette Sasse – Rebelle, Résistante et Mécène

What I love most about my job is that I learn something new every single day. How lucky I am to discover at all times, a new artist, an unusual personality, an extraordinary story or an interesting space. By visiting the Antoinette Sasse exhibition, I got the chance to combine all four. The exhibition whose title is quite explicit (Antoinette Sasse – Rebel, Resistant and Patron) highlights the life of Antoinette Sasse who played a major role in establishing Jean Moulin’s (a prominent French resistant) memory. After reading a brief note about the exhibition held at the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hautecloque et de La Libération de Paris- Musée Jean Moulin (Paris’ museum dedicated to Wold War II’s French Resistance and Liberation), I wished to know more about this feminine figure I had never heard about and moreover was intrigued by the description of her wardrobe constituted of Jeanne Lanvin, Hermès or Maggy Rouff creations: a renegade with style? How interesting!

Exhibition View. Photograph by Musée du Général Leclerc et de la Libération - Musée Jean Moulin.

Exhibition View. Photograph by Musée du Général Leclerc et de la Libération – Musée Jean Moulin.

I have always claimed how much I am concerned about World War II, and it is true, I used to spend much time in my adolescence, reading about the war and mostly its impact on civilians. Yet, as a Parisian, I am terribly embarrassed I had never visited this museum which we must admit lacks visibility, not only from the media but also because of its location (above the Montparnasse train station). Upon my visit to the museum, I was pleasantly surprised by its pedagogic and immersive museography while the Antoinette Sasse temporary display unveiled numerous entertaining facts and objects. Considered rebellious because she divorced from her husband in the early 1930s and then led an independent single life, wisely growing her fortune to assure a highly comfortable existence and forging her identity as a talented painter, close to Chaim Soutine and Kees Van Dongen.

Exhibition View - Art. Interestingly, none of Antoinette Sasse's paintings have been found today. Only photographs of them remain. Difficult to know whether they remain in private collections or have been stolen and destroyed by the Nazis.

Exhibition View – Art. Interestingly, none of Antoinette Sasse’s paintings have been found today. Only photographs of them remain. Difficult to know whether they remain in private collections or have been stolen and destroyed by the Nazis.

Free and modern, Antoinette Sasse wore her hair short and curly (and would remain faithful to this style her whole life through) while she practiced various sports that gave her body a slender allure; a body she appreciated strongly tanned thanks to her many beach sessions. To adorn her body, the elegant artist chose pieces from the most fashionable couturiers of her era. Nothing too extravagant, but simple and comfortable garments that suited her activeness. She privileged dark and neutral tones as well as white outfits that beautifully contrasted with her tan while accessories such as exquisite handbags, hats and necklaces enhanced the classicality (yet modernity with its boyish quality) of her ensembles. When one observes photographs of Antoinette Sasse, we can’t help but think of Gabrielle Chanel who had a similar taste and had popularized large trousers, comfortable knits and black dresses. During the war, she was able to obtain a card enabling her to buy her clothing from couturiers, a privilege that confirmed her sophistication.

Fashion Display (loans by the Musée Galleria): Maggy Rouff black velvet ensemble - 1934. The outfit she wore the most during the war.

Fashion Display (loans by the Musée Galleria): Maggy Rouff black velvet ensemble – 1934. The outfit she wore the most during the war.

However, Antoinette Sasse was not just a frivolous elegant during the war and, after meeting Jean Moulin, she became active in the Resistance, assisting him before having to leave France, in 1943, endangered by her Jewish lineage. When she returned to France a year later, she discovered that Jean Moulin had been arrested and killed by the Germans in a mysterious way. Eager to learn the truth, she fought alongside Jean Moulin’s sister to put the spotlight on those responsible for the treason of her resistant companion and would spend the rest of her life commemorating the memory of the man and by requesting the creation of a Musée Jean Moulin after bequeathing all her fortune and personal documents to Paris after her death.

Antoinette true to her hairstyle. Photograph by Hayley Dujardin-Edwards

Antoinette true to her hairstyle. Photograph by Hayley Dujardin-Edwards

Although little by size and modest, the display is important thanks to all the information it delivers. Complete and clear, it brings us within the different aspects of Antoinette Sasse’s life and personality, revealing numerous personal documents such as photographs, letters, films and garments, as well as objects enabling to contextualize not only her artistic environment with beautiful paintings by Chaim Soutine and Kees Van Dongen but also photographs of her entourage and documents that help comprehend the Resistance better and how important Antoinette Sasse’s involvement was (Postwar historians often privileged masculine figures, leaving aside all the women that had fought for their country’s freedom). What truly enriches the exhibition are the many oral accounts of experts and close relatives that convey a thorough perception of Antoinette Sasse whose independence and elegance charmed all those that would meet her.

Thus presenting today an exhibition dedicated to Antoinette Sasse in the museum she had desired for Jean Moulin, is quite a lovely symbol of their reunion.

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