First published: Autumn 2022
For ten years, a seamstress in a psychiatric hospital created an embroidery ensemble that embodied her background, her style and her very being
Although her name is relatively unknown in the world of outsider art, Jeanne Laporte is the creator of the well-known Robe de Bonneval. This information only came to light in 2018 – until then, unknown even to her living descendants – revealed in some of Jean Dubuffet’s notes from 1963 that were stored in the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne. The creator’s identity was publicly attributed in the Italian journal Osservatorio Outsider Art in 2019.
The ensemble comprises a dress, cape, hat, curtain and two carpets, as well as a bag and a train (not shown). All photos: Donated by L’Aracine,1999, to LaM; © Philip Bernard
Jeanne Yvonne Ernestine Fromage was born in May, 1893, in Trouville-sur-Mer, Normandy, north-west France, the third child of a middle-class family of four. Her father died when she was just four and her mother, a highly respected couturière and shopkeeper, brought the children up alone. As a young woman, Laporte lost two beloved brothers to the Great War – one in 1914, the other 1918, both aged 23. These losses would mark her for life.
The front of the dress
In 1914, she married Camille Lucien Laporte, a hairdresser from Dreux, 90 miles or so from her home. The couple went on to have three children and ran a café-come-hair salon at Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre (near Dreux). Laporte was a woman of a fiery disposition with a confident taste in clothes. Fascinated by fashion and everything modern, she was one of the first women in the town to learn to drive and to wear her hair short. She prided herself on her style and, with her husband’s consent, she dressed herself (and their children) in keeping with the latest trends. Her gall did not go unnoticed and incurred the wrath of her mother-in-law.
Laporte found her inspiration in plants, animals and the natural world, but there was some geometry to her designs
Ten years after the loss of her second brother – despite being described by her husband as “so brave and capable” – Laporte began to show signs of melancholia and delusion. Her doctor encouraged her to fall pregnant again in the hope of lowering her blood pressure and she gave birth to her last child at the age of 35. At this point, according to family members, she went out of her mind. The same doctor then had her sectioned in the psychiatric hospital of Bonneval in 1929, two months after giving birth. She remained there until she died of a heart attack in 1956.
It is in this lonely and impersonal institution that Laporte would create her famous Robe de Bonneval – a complete ensemble comprising a dress, cape, hat, bag, train, wall hanging and two carpets – starting work on it the day after the sudden death of her husband in 1937. This was a loss with which she could not come to terms; she constantly repeated the phrase “This can’t be true” and was assessed as being “completely lost”. Sewing offered her an escape and an emotional outlet.
By MARIE JEANNET
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #112