Seraphin Gabriel Laurin was born February 22nd 1901 in Aix-en-Provence out of wedlock. Days after his birth his mother took him to a small alpine village, "Dormillouze" where he was left in the care of Protestant farmers. He lived there until the death of his foster father. Laurin always said "my only father". The farmer was crushed to death by the mill stone when he accidently fell in the grinder. Laurin was five years old. Laurin's grandmother became destitute at the sudden death of her husband with the sale of their horse drawing company and their posting house, she was able to buy a small house in the town of Aix and moved in with her remaining three children.
They all had to go to work. Her daughter Pauline (1868-1929), Laurin's mother was twelve when she had to leave school.
Gabriel's mother brought him home to Aix. The whole family worked in the almond packaging company of the Milhauds, the family of the composer Darius Milhaud.
As a boy of five Laurin was sent to a catholic school, the "Cours Saint Joseph". There, one of his teachers, a priest, put rose thorns under Gabriel's nails and a dunce cap on his head because Laurin was born a bastard.
After obtaining his certificate of final education at the age of 13, Gabriel tried to enlist and go to the front. The military police brought him back to Aix. When he was 14, in 1915, Laurin entered the navy's military school of Lorient. At 15 he obtained his licence as a specialized mechanic and worked in the military ship building yards.
At 16, Laurin lost his right hand in an explosion. The hand was deformed, leaving him only his little finger. He cut his hand off himself in the military hospital against the doctor's wishes. He always said afterwards. "What could I have done with this hand except drink tea with the little finger sticking out. This way, I had a metal contraption put on that enabled me to do a great deal and that saved my life many times, especially during the war of 1941".
Laurin went back to Aix. As a disabled veteran, he was given by the government a "mom and pop" store. Laurin sold it and with the proceeds he left for Paris. He was 18.
was over and Paris was truly a " city of light " . He discovered the
Paris of the night, the balls, the bistros. He became an " Apache "
then considered the elite in the underworld of young hoodlums.
Laurin was apprehended by the police in Paris during a round up and sent back to Aix where he was detained and then let go with no conviction of any crime.
Without a real profession, Gabriel entered the world of sports. As a young boy, he was good in all sports but especially cross country running. He started winning competitions. The prize money and odd jobs kept him afloat.
One day, in 1922, in a sports bar, he met the great Italian cyclist Dilizzaro. The champion was sketching some of the bars' clients. Laurin was amazed by his artistic talent and told him so. Dilizzaro handed Gabriel a piece of charcoal and told him, "you can do the same". From that moment on Laurin never stopped sketching, and painting until he died. Laurin went home and told his mother "I am a painter, an artist". He entered the prestigious school l'École des Beaux Arts in Aix as an independent candidate. His teacher, Marcel Arnaud (1877-1956) was a well known artist and disciple of Paul Cézanne(1839- 1906).
Laurin and four of his friends, artists like himself, formed , Le groupe de Bibémus .
They met outside of Aix at a small cabin where they painted and discussed art. They were André Marchand (1907-1998), Roger Decome (1906-1991), Pierre Mailloux (1912-2000), and Gilbert Rigaud (1912-2003).
In 1929, Laurin's mother , Pauline, died. Gabriel will grieve her all his life. She was his greatest friend.
In 1929 (1930), Laurin competed with 20,000 candidates from all over France and won the 7th prize of the prestigious art contest Le Concour Condé . With the prize money of 500 hundred francs, a small fortune at the time, Laurin left Aix and went to Paris, to Montparnasse and La Grande Chaumière . There he met Méraud Guiness(1904-1993), the daughter of Lord Guiness. She will marry the Chilian Poet Alvaro Guevera (1894-19510).
During the next five years, Laurin spent most of his time in Paris, meeting and becoming friends with some of the more fascinating and famous people of the times, Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), Francis Picabia (1872-1946), Jeanne Bucher (1872-1946), Paul Poiret (1879-1940) and the great poet Max Jacob (1876-1944) who tragically died in deportation.
In 1931, Laurin married Marie Thérèse Baldini , known as Yvonne. She was a childhood sweetheart of Laurin's ( as was her sister Dédé), but Yvonne wanted to get married. In Paris, the two sisters were called Les Oisillons , the little birds, fledgings.
In 1933, Laurin wanted to stay in Paris. The sisters wanted to go back to Aix. Yvonne and Laurin agreed to divorce. They would be friends for the rest of their lives.
In 1933, Darius Milhaud gave Laurin his first exhibition in Paris. An enormous success.
In 1934, a friend of Méraud came to Paris to stay with her. Named Julia Chanler Beach (1905-1977), the daughter of Robert Winthrop Chanler, the American painter(1872-1930 ) and a descendant of John Jacob Astor, governors Winthrop and Styuvesant. Her husband was the American composer and pianist George Beach. Laurin met Julia at Méraud's and a week later they left for Aix together.
In 1936, Julia divorced George Beach and married Laurin. They had two daughters, Pauline Rose Laurin (1936) and Monique Chanler Laurin (1937). They built a large house on the outskirts of Aix and called it Barjemiou. they feared a war, so they built a secret room under the main stair case , to hide provisions or the children.
In 1940, artists and intellectuals were coming to Aix and Marseille, still a safe zone from the advancing German invasion. The writer Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) became a continuous visitor at the Laurin household, as was the writer Eric Noth (1909-1983) and Méraud Guiness, Julia's childhood friend.
Darius Milhaud introduced the writer Jean Giono (1895-1976) to Laurin on the Cours Mirabeau and Laurin will do one frontispiece for his book Un de Beaumugnes (1947).
The situation internationally became worrisome, in Aix it became frightening. The Laurins hid Canadien and English pilots shot down during dog fights over their countryside of Aix in the secret room in Barjemiou. The German secret Police came and interrogated first Julia, and then the children Pauline (5yrs) and Monique (4yrs).
Julia, worried, wanted to leave for America. In the beginning of November 1941, they left for Lisbon. A month later they boarded a ship for New York. While on the high seas, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the Second World War was declared. Their ship was torpedoed but it managed to get to the Canary Islands. It was more or less fixed and they arrived in New York just before Christmas. Most of the boat's passengers were Jewish refugees, children escaping Nazi Germany.Because of various buraucratic mix ups,the children were not able to get off the ship. Julia, because she was American, and her two daughters were able to land. Julia later told her daughters that the ship continued on to Nova Scotia but before landing it was torpedoed. All were lost at sea.
Though Julia and Cendrars managed to get a visa for the U.S. for Laurin, he decided to stay and combat the enemy in his home town of Aix.
Laurin joined the French Resistance. He changed his name to Mattei. He was asked to organize the Commando operations sent from London. At the beginning of 1944, he became the head of a group of Resistance fighters, for the Bouches-du-Rhône. Laurin was able to asssemble a formidable information agency that would help identify the top agents of the Gestapo and their French collaborators. Through his actions the worst Gestapo torturer of the region was mortally wounded. Tortora, a french agent of the Gestapo and Forshman, the German officer in command, were both killed.
When the 7th Army came to liberate the South of France, Laurin, under the services of a Captain Thomson O.S.S.G-2, in a perilous operation behind enemy lines, armed with a German Lüger, his sketchpad, a crayon and a piece of country bread, brought back, after three days of hicking in the Provence hills, the maps he drew of the exact location of the Panzer divisions of the retreating, but still lethal German Army.
Refusing to accept all honors after the war. "I didn't do this for medals or names. I just didn't like the color of their uniform. Especially in my town of Aix. I'm a painter after all and that particular color is a color that offends".
Laurin left Aix in 1947 for New York to see his wife and his two daughters.
Julia had returned to her life in the New York Society of the four hundred that her familly partly created. She was involved with the the education of her two daughters, Pauline then eleven and Monique ten. The life of an artist's wife in Aix no longer existed for her.
Laurin and Julia divorced but through their respective lives they stayed friends with great respect for each other.
The war took four years out of Laurin's life as an artist. He changed his style. His pallet of color was stunning. Finished were the charcoal drawings of the 30s and his delightful drawings of the towns of Provence or it's people. His paintings were bold, colorful women predominated them. As do animals, birds, fish, chickens and nature. The War was over.
In 1946, the Galerie Denis gave Laurin his first exhibition in Paris after the war. It would be a great success. Acclaimed by art critics, his work sold well. The preface was by Maximilien Vox and his painting, " The vegetable stall woman " was bought by the Government.
Once back in Aix, Laurin met and became a good friend for life of George Duthuit (1891-1973), the son-in-law of Matisse. Laurin during the war had met Matisse's daughter, who like Laurin, joined the Resistance, at it's beginning. Madame Matisse, the wife of the artist, lived in Aix and Gabriel was often invited to Madame Matisse's informal gatherings of artists, writers and intellectuals like Cendrars. It made Aix a fascinating place to be .
In 1949, Laurin went back to New York to see Julia and his daughters. They went to Connecticut to visit a cousin of Julia's , Alexander Calder's wife, a James. Calder was a friend of Laurin's. He had gone in 1946 to the opening of Laurin's exhibition at the Galerie Denis. Julia had Sandy to lunch in her Madison Avenue apt. when Calder was in town. Julia always said that Calder reminded her of her father, Robert Winthrop Chanler and Laurin put together.
Laurin moved to Paris on his return from New York. He found an old boxing gym in the rue du Faugourg Saint Martin, moved in and made it his studio and galery.
In 1951, Gabriel has an exhibition at the Galerie Mai rue Bonaparte and the writer journalist Jean Bouret (1914-1979) wrote the preface. All Laurin's paintings, pastels and drawings were sold out the first night. The government bought another painting of Laurin's , The almond branch .
Laurin returned to Aix. There he found his " cousin " Alexander Calder and met the painter André Masson(1898-1987) who like Laurin, visited Calder at the "Mas des Roches". Laurin introduced Calder to the town of Martigues, a delightful Provençal village on the Mediterrannean Sea, known as the Venice of Provence and famous for it's Bouillabaisse.
In 1953, Laurin met and loved a charming lady, Clémence Routant (1903-1984).
In 1953, Julia, Pauline and Monique returned to Aix, the first time since 1941. They arrived with a great joy and a profound sence of desolation for what the war took from them.
They continued their journey touring the Mediteranean and stopped in Lebanon. Julia decided to stay. Pauline and Monique enrolled at the American Community School of Beyrouth and they stayed a year. In 1954, Julia invited Laurin to come and visit them.
He enjoys a lengthy stay and goes to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Gabriel finds the area beautiful, a true marvel, and returns to Aix with the tones of the area marked for ever in his palet of colors.
In1954, Françoise Rousselet (1930-1983) became Laurin's new companion. She was a professor of Italian at the University. Laurin finished building his house in the outskirts of Aix and he and Françoise and her six year old daughter Anne spent weekends there, taking long walks, enjoying the familly life that the war had deprived Laurin of having with his daughters. They are together eight years.
In 1960 Laurin had his first exhibition in Aix at the Galerie Tony Spinazzola on the Cours Mirabeau. The night before, he wrote a very moving letter in one of his sketch pads to his mother, Pauline, his aunt " La Tante Rose " and his uncle Marius., dead for years. .In this letter he wrote of his solitude, of his sadness that they are not here for this success in their home town of Aix. They, who had made everything possible.
Often Laurin would sign his work 'Gabriel Laurin d'Aix " as if Aix was synonymous with Laurin . He could never leave his town for long. Finally the people of Aix would see his work. They who called him, the killer, the vigilante. Would finally meet the painter.
After the exhibition he became " Monsieur Laurin ".People would say : 'You Know he's a painter. He paints Aix on his canvases ".
During the sixties and until his death, Laurin would go to Paris at least seven times a year to see his friends like Blaise Cendrars, Father Bruckberger, George Duthuit, Ida Chagall, his childhood friend Tino Rossi, his daughter Monique and her six children (Katherina,Sébastien,Béatrice, Benjamin, Grégoire, Fabien) and especially Julia who even after their divorce was a constant presence in Laurin's life.
1962, Laurin left for San Francisco with Julia to see his daughter Pauline. She had her first child David, while they were there. Gabriel and Julia visited their old friends, the Milhauds, at Mills College. Darius and Madeleine were both teachers at the College.
In1965, a television crew, directed by Jean-Claude Bringuier and Hubert Knapp, interviewed and filmed Laurin for their show " Croquis " The show was televised April 13, 1966.
In1967, The Krane Kalman Galerie in London organized an exhibition in England for Laurin. His whole familly was there on vacation in Broadstairs - Pauline and her children, Monique with hers and Julia. Laurin while on vacation in Broadstairs, suddenly suffered accute pains. Rushed to the hospital in London, doctors diagnosed prostate cancer.
was operated . The doctors told the family not to divulge the reason for the
surgery, believing it would be detrimental to Laurin's recovery. His daughter
Monique would only tell him two years before his death.
Laurin traveled to Germany for the first time. His son in-law, Reinhard von Nagel, had to go on a business trip and invited Laurin to accompany him for a week. Reinhard and his partner made and designed high quality tables and chairs for the Maison Roset. Gabriel was delighted with his visit and told his daughter Monique "you see. The war is truly over."
In 1968 Laurin had an exhibition at the Galerie Christiane Colin in Paris. Laurin got good reviews. It was the time of the students' revolt in Paris. Laurin made a poster showing a young man drowning, his hand coming out of the water, the circles of water around his hand were red, white, and bleu. Surrounding this body of water were the military police, standing in a circle watching the young man drown. The captions said : "18 yrs old, they did not kill him, he died by himself. Drowned." The story was true.
The young man drowned in front of the Renault factory of Flins. Laurin was very affected by the students revolt and the death of this young man.
In 1970, his daughter Monique and her husband Reinhard organized an exhibition for Laurin at the Galerie Katia Granoff in Paris. With positive reviews and strong sales, Laurin returned to Aix where he had his last exhibition in Aix at the Galerie des Amis des Arts on the Cours Mirabeau.
In 1972, Laurin entered the clinic of the Docteur Vidal. His daugher Pauline, on a trip from Japan with her three children( David, Julie, and Suzanne), visited him alone for the last time. She would leave for Japan and never see him again.
In 1973, Laurin dies of cancer with his daughter Monique by his side. He is buried in the cemetery Saint Pierre not far from the tomb of Paul Cézanne and his friend Darius Milhaud.
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