I met Geneviève Noufflard in Paris during the fall of 2008. She probably was approaching ninety by then, but she navigated the large apartment on the rue de Varenne, where she had lived all her life, with surprising confidence and grace. She had invited Erin and me to see the home and studio where her parents, Berthe and André Noufflard, had painted interiors, still lifes, portraits and landscapes. Every turn of a corner brought you face to face with a painting of some meaningful person or place in the lives of the Noufflard family. Often, it was a painting of the same room we had just entered or departed, the same furnishing arranged just as they had been in the 1920s or 1930s. We passed through beautiful salons in which the Noufflards had entertained such talented friends as the artists Jacques-Émile Blanche and Henri Rivière, the writers Vernon Lee and Elie Halévy, and countless others. Geneviève insisted that we stay for lunch.
We sat at a sturdy table just off the kitchen a little after one o’clock. The luncheon was simple but delicious, chicken and couscous as I recall, and was accompanied by a good bottle of wine, maybe more than one. We talked and talked about Geneviève’s parents and their fascinating lives as artists, about Geneviève and her older sister Henriette’s service to the Resistance during World War II, and the days in January 1943 when she and Henriette helped a downed American airman from Memphis elude German checkpoints and escape to safety in Spain. John Spence would never forget the risks taken by the Noufflard sisters to save him, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives.
In 1995, Henriette and Geneviève donated forty-two works by their gifted parents to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and they remain a valued and important part of our collection. Some are nearly always on view somewhere in the museum. Over lunch, Geneviève and I discussed ways in which the Dixon might help make Berthe and André Noufflard better known, exhibitions we could develop with the Noufflard Foundation (which Geneviève headed), and publications we should pursue. Although she had been a talented flutist and one of the founders of Le Rondeau de Paris, by 2008, Geneviève’s singular focus was on further securing her parents’ reputation as artists.
As she filled my glass a second and possibly a third time, I made a number of recommendations—consult a Parisian art dealer in whom she had faith, trust that the quality of the work would prevail in the market—but it was not Geneviève’s way and probably not her parents’ way either. Leave it to the American to think the only real success is commercial success. Lunch finally ended at around five o’clock and we said our goodbyes; the slight lean of the staircase in that marvelous old townhouse seemed a little steeper than it was when we came in. I looked back from a landing and said au revoir to Geneviève, standing at her front door, but we did not see each other again. We corresponded a bit and I followed the work of the Association Noufflard with interest, but I should have made time to visit her again.
Geneviève Noufflard passed away on December 28, 2016 in her ninety-seventh year. I always will be grateful that my path crossed hers, at least for one afternoon. Geneviève was such a brave and interesting, generous and lovely person. You did not have to know her long to know that. May she rest in peace.
Berthe Noufflard, Genevieve in a Red Sweater, 1924. Oil on cardboard. Gift of Henriette Noufflard Guy-Loë and Geneviève Noufflard