The Louise Tournay Collection 65 documents dans la collection
Louise Tournay, commonly known as Loulou, was born in Monceau, in the Belgian Ardennes, on 1 May 1925. She came from a family of senior officers and judges on her mother’s side. Her father, who died in 1959, was a qualified agronomist. From 1954, after studying medicine, she worked as a live-in nurse – a true vocation as she had had a passion for medicine since childhood. She took care of the sick in their homes, specialising in people suffering from cancer. At their bedsides, she wrote a book entitled Hantise (Obsessive Fear), which stresses the importance of psychological traumas and their influence on the treatment of cancer. In 1966, she married Emile Lavallée, who worked as personnel manager at a bookshop in Liège, and gave up her job as a home nurse. In 1963, Emile introduced her to classical music, which inspired her profoundly, suggesting imaginary ballets, texts, and finally sculptures.
From 1973 to 1976, she took evening classes in rue Hazinelle, focusing on modelling and sculpture. She was immediately enthralled by contact with the damp clay, which seemed to her “so alive, like human flesh”. Terracotta became her preferred material. She completed her three years of study under “the indulgent eye” of her teacher, Monsieur Gilles. In 1977, she enrolled at Liège’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, taking classes delivered by the sculptors Mady Andrien and Michel Lents. Although the Academy’s ambience was “very fraternal”, she nonetheless realised that she was not cut out for the type of work she was supposed to focus on: the abstract shapes, busts after plaster models and preparatory drawings that she was required to produce left her perplexed. After many fruitless attempts, her teachers finally let her go her own way. It was thanks to Monsieur Léon Remy’s cartooning class that she learned to “better see the signs of human features”. She set herself to sculpting series of characters between 15 and 25 cm high, to which she gave titles. Blessed with a good memory, she sculpted figures from her childhood: villagers, the parish priest, the schoolteacher, the nun, and the mayor and mayoress. She also produced automatic drawings in black marker. The parts of the body required to create them are indicated: both hands, feet, mouth, etc. Her drawings were published in various journals, including Paraclet: dessins automatiques de Loulou de l’Atelier de l’Agneau (1998), Kitoko Jungle Magazine (1991), and Asemic, a journal devoted to graphic signs. Her works are now housed in the LaM in Villeneuve d’Ascq and Lausanne’s Art Brut Collection museum. Louise Tournay died in Liège on 25 January 2010.
THE COLLECTION’S INTEREST:
First of all, it is fascinating to compare the collection with the section devoted to Louise Tournay in L’Aracine’s archives. This is especially true of the letters they both contain. There is much to be learned in tracing the epistolary exchanges between Claire Teller and Louise, Claire’s letters in Louise’s collection, and Louise’s letters in L’Aracine’s archives. Her letters to Claire leave us with a portrait of a woman of considerable humour and modesty. Her correspondence also highlights the bonds of friendship that tied her to Madeleine Lommel, who provided the sculptress with her impressions of her sculptures. Michel Thévoz also wrote her a great many letters and had no hesitation in asking her critical opinion of his books.
Among the biographical details available, the interview is especially comprehensive, covering her way of working clay and also presenting an analysis of some of her statuettes. Her little home nurse’s notebook bears witness to what we might call her first life, at the bedsides of cancer-stricken patients. It goes alongside a little notebook of handwritten recipes.
It is also clear that the Lavallée-Tournays had a real passion for photography. One is struck by the sheer number of photos (over 7,200) and their meticulously ordered classification. A taste for staging and the theatre is also apparent, evidenced by a number of albums in which Emile is photographed in costume, playing a role or caricaturing a feeling or typical character: slapstick poses that are somewhat reminiscent of Louise’s statuettes.
The few mini-magazines contained in the collection create dialogues between her automatic drawings and interest in graphic signs and other artists’ drawings.
The Louise Tournay Collection was assembled by Claire Teller in 2010, following the artist’s death; it draws on the archives she kept at her home in rue Henri Vieuxtemps in Liège. Claire Teller donated it to the LaM in Villeneuve-d'Asq the same year.
Claire Teller kept up a friendship and corresponded with Louise for several years. As cofounder of the L’Aracine association in 1982, she worked to include Louise’s statuettes in exhibitions mounted by the association.
Find the inventory of the Louise Tournay Collection here
- Le fonds Louise Tournay