Figarox / Major Maintenance – Born in Russia in 1912, Helen Galitzin left her country after the Revolution and lived in Italy and then in France, where she became a model for Mattis. David Brunat describes the fate of this exiled princess in his novel A model princess.
David Brunat, a former student of lecole Normale Supérieure, is a consultant and author. He reveals A model princess (Héloïse d’Ormesson edition, 2022).
Figarox. – After writing several books on varied characters such as Giovanni Falcone, Steve Jobs and Auguste Escoffier, you have dedicated your latest book to Helen Galitzine. Are you interested in this model Russian princess by Matisse?
David Brunat. – Thanks to the romantic dimension of the character, her extraordinary destiny, her natural charisma … and of course the fact that she became a model for Mattis, an unlikely combination of circumstances closely associated with the Russian Revolution and the deportation of her family to Italy. In France.
I started writing this book during the first lockdown. In this turbulent and dark time, I wanted to write a thrilling, colorful and light-bursting story about life and hope, despite the family and personal trials that have followed the shadows of history and tragedy and the princess, at a very young age. His birthplace.
I also wanted the main character in my book to be an unknown but heroic heroine like herself, in love of art and literature, as well as modern and traditional, a strong woman who never gives up and never gives up. Leave the rudder, take the bull by the horns but always with grace and elegance, humor and joy.
What was his relationship with Mattis?
When he met her in the mid-1930s, she was working as a seamstress to support her family. She was the mother of two young daughters. Her husband – my great-uncle – who was of Russian and Swiss descent, struggled to make the pot. They lived a really frugal life, like most Galitzines back then. Farewell to the splendor of the past!
Helen learned drawing in Italy in her youth, she loved art and measured the glory of Mattis. He entered his studio with a mixture of curiosity and admiration, even respect. They immediately got along very well even if she always refuses to pose naked. He was in his service for five years while continuing his professional activities in parallel. He celebrated after the painter’s death in 1954 “Immortal and great artIn his own words.
Mattis could talk to him about Russia, the country he loved the most and which was the first to recognize and reward his talent.
Mattis has written many masterpieces with him, including Music Where she is presented as a guitarist, but also on canvas where she wears a Romanian blouse or a bolero, and numerous drawings and sketches of extreme beauty. But at the risk of disappointing you, there was never any romance between them.
She had a lot of respect for him as a person as well as an ideal model. Her status as a princess was probably not related to it and it brought a touch of exotic and glamorous, but in the end the respect she showed her was first and foremost because of her character strength, her intelligence, her strength. They also had the ability to see clothes, love clothes and see beauty in everything. And then Mattis could talk to him about Russia, the country he loved the most and which was the first to recognize his talent – and reward.
We find in the pen of Alexander Dumas another Princess Galatine, who was known for her freedom with history. Have you taken the same distance from historical truth?
The book is written in the first person – it is Helen that tells her life -, I clearly imagined a thought she must have never had and discovered situations and characters from scratch. I imagined a conversation between him and Mattis, dreaming of Mattis’s reflection about him, but always trying to respect the historical admiration, especially by verifying what I said through Mattis archives. On the other hand, what I am writing about his family, his descendants, the political or military achievements of his ancestors, and the general historical context is consistent with the truth.
But when it comes to a novel, I feel that there is a right and even a duty to “embroider”. Without restraint but with prudence. Her daughters, who are my aunts, and whom I cherish, told me about the length of her life and encouraged me to describe her very freely, even better, to take her for a book! And I would love to go to the studio in his head, in his time, in his sensibility… and one of the best artists of his century!
One could say that General de Gaulle played the role of spiritual father for Gary who played Mattis Helen.
Your heroine fled Russia after the fall of the dictatorship and we rediscover the importance of the Russian presence in France and especially in Nice through her life …
It is known that the Russian presence in the Riviera and especially in Nice is very old. France’s first Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas and St. Alexandra Church, was founded there in the 1850s. In the past, officers of the Russian squadron deployed during the winter season in Villefranche-sur-Mere used to join fashionable restaurants and establishments. In Nice, and they played a major role in the development of what is not yet called C ডিte d’Azur.
The street where the princess lived in Nice in the early 1930s, we heard more Russian than French, it was a haven for Russian expatriates! And it was also on Nice that Mattis met and hired his future musician, associate, secretary, model and potential concubine, Lydia Delektorskaya, a native and friend of Helen’s (first as his wife’s nurse).
In Nice, Helen Galitzine lives on Shakespeare Avenue, where Roman Gary lived. Do you draw parallels between their respective destinies?
Their social sources were very different, as were their respective “careers” and temperaments. But they both faced irresistible events during the great historical coup, and they faced it with dignity and punch. France was not their homeland but they loved it with fire and courage. And one could say that General de Gaulle played the role of spiritual father for Gary, who played Mattis Helen, who lost his father at a very young age, who died in captivity in the Siberian Bolshevik prison when he was president of the Red Cross for whites. Army
Enlightened Russian collectors such as Chatchukin and the Morozov brothers did much for Matisse’s glory.
Your book also shows the importance of the cultural connection between Russia and France at that time: the Russians nurtured themselves with French literature and even, as you said, were the first to recognize the genius of Mattis. How does it sound today?
Among the Galatjins, before the Russian Revolution, French was spoken much more than Russian (but also German, Italian, English, etc.)! Helen’s mother was born in Paris, a commonplace among the aristocracy of the Tsar’s country. Enlightened Russian collectors such as the Chatchukin and Morozov brothers did much for the glory of Matisse, they embodied the international artistic avant-garde of the time.
In short, the dialogue between Russia and the so-called somewhat catch-all shortcut to the West was self-evident (but this was already true during Catherine II, who also gave birth to a German princess), and I bet Mattis would be shocked to learn that Russia’s current master , Who is also nostalgic for the USSR, which would never see the light of day without the ideological framework created by the “Western” Marx and Engels. Dance Mattis and many more masterpieces to master the museums of St. Petersburg and Moscow!
Will beauty and art save the world? Certainly not alone. But they can help. This is also Matisse’s posthumous “message”, full of work, light and clarity, so foreign to the art of war …