Tag Archives: French Resistance

The French Resistance

Lately I’ve written about two very different members of the French Resistance in World War II: Marguerite, the daughter of the artist Henri Matisse, and Jean de Noailles. How did just a small number of people find the courage to actively resist the tyranny of the Gestapo in France, when most French citizens went about their lives hoping to avoid danger by collaborating with or ignoring the German occupiers? The reasons seem to be as varied as the people themselves.


I recently watched an absorbing 2009 film about the Resistance. It is semi-fictional, based on the courageous real-life actions of real people, supplemented by some fictional characters and situations.  The fictional characters serve to humanize the bare-bones stories of the resistance fighters. The director was Robert Guediguian.

The film, which is in French with subtitles, begins with a busload of ordinary-looking people riding through Paris on a sunny day.  They gaze out the bus windows, make small talk, joke with each other, or keep to themselves.  I somehow missed the subtitles, so not until the end of the film did I realize the heartbreaking reason these 22 people were riding that bus.

Next, we see the events that led to that bus ride in 1944, just a few weeks before Paris was liberated. Back in 1941, at the beginning of the German occupation, a ragtag group of resisters began wreaking havoc on the German occupiers. Their leader was the real-life Missak Manouchian, an Armenian poet who was at first ready to die, but not to kill. That changed.

A large number of Resistance fighters were not French. Some of the fighters were Jews; many were Communists. All were implacable enemies of the German occupiers, willing to make the terrible choices dictated by resistance. Even knowing that they were losing the war, the Germans used them in a propaganda campaign which called them an “Army of Crime.” Red posters featuring them appeared all over France in the days before their executions.

Marguerite Matisse and Jean de Noailles are featured in my previous posts,  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/07/15/marguerite-a-feisty-daughter/ andhttps://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/06/10/jean-de-noaill…nch-resistance/.  


Photo from NYT review cited below

Photo from NYT review cited below


A review of “Army of Crime” is at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/movies/20army.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. The film is streaming on Netflix.

Join me next time for more explorations into the fascinating history (and art) of Europe!

Marguerite: Henri Matisse’s Feisty Daughter


This past April at the Pompidou Center in Paris, I was charmed by this portrait: “Marguerite au Chat Noir,” or “Margaret with Black Cat.”  The young lady was the daughter of Henri Matisse.  He painted this portrait in 1910 and exhibited it in Berlin at the Secession show, and subsequently at the Armory Show in New York City in 1913. The portrait was considered radical and bold in its time; it still is, no less than its model. The artist kept this particular painting in his own possession, and his family has kept it since his death in 1954.

Marguerite was the artist’s only daughter.  He portrayed her many times, no doubt thankful for every moment he spent with her.  At the age of 6, she nearly died of diptheria.  After that, she generally wore either high-necked clothing or a ribbon to cover the scar from the emergency tracheotomy during that illness.

Marguerite grew up to be a brave woman. In 1945, she was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo for her activities in the French Resistance.  She somehow escaped from the train taking her to a concentration camp.  She died in 1982, at age 87.

I wish I could have seen a show in Baltimore last fall, “Matisse’s Marguerite: Model Daughter,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  A description of that show, by Tim Smith, is at touch.baltimoresun.com.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Jean de Noailles: A Hero of the French Resistance


The Allied forces that liberated Europe from Nazi rule received a lot of help from members of the Resistance in various countries.  Jean de Noailles was one of them.  I came upon a family photograph of him when I recently visited the Chateau de Maintenon near Chartres in France.



(I wrote about this chateau in two previous posts, “Chateau de Maintenon” and “Louis XIV: A Very Thirsty King”). The de Noailles family still occupies the chateau they inherited from the “secret” wife of King Louis XIV.  They are justifiably proud of their lineage–in fact, a very grand gallery displays large portraits of various illustrious ancestors.

Jean de Noailles would have been the 9th Duke, but he died before his father. During World War II, he was an active member of the French Resistance.  Born in 1893, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. he was imprisoned and tortured first at their Paris headquarters on avenue Foch, then sent to Compiegne in France, then to Buchenwald-Flossenburg, and finally to Bergen-Belsen.  He died there just a few days before the camp was liberated at the end of the war. By all reports, he never handed over any useful information to the Nazis.  They may have kept him alive in hopes of eventually getting information, or they may simply have been reluctant to actually execute a member of a noble family.  (In Germany, the ruling Wittelsbachs were placed in a concentration camp, but given private lodgings and more food than the run of political prisoners).

What would make a Duke risk his life to resist tyranny, when so many ordinary French people went quietly about their lives during the war, and so many cooperated enthusiastically with the Nazis? When I ask that question, I have to ask what I would have done.  We can be grateful to those who did give their lives in the cause of freedom.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!