To the word “illustrator”, she preferred that of “imagière”, which had been suggested to her by Paul Éluard. Jacqueline Duhême, “the image maker of poets,” died on March 1 at the age of 97. His name will remain inseparable from the writers of the last century, Éluard, Prévert, Queneau, Roy, Cendrars, Vercors but also Matisse, the artist who gave him his start. She always spoke of it with admiration. To her, he was forever “ the boss.”

What a will-o’-the-wisp was this woman, lively and cheeky, who strove to add color to her existence, pencils constantly in hand. At the end of her life, finally recognized, her drawn autobiography, Une vie en crobards, published by Gallimard, she posed as the last witness to a miraculous era for art. An era which saw poets converse with artists in constant emulation. In her Parisian apartment we could see the portraits that three of her old acquaintances had made of her: a photo by Man Ray, a drawing by Matisse and a collage by Prévert.

Also read: Jacqueline Duhême, the image maker

Jacqueline Duhême was born on November 15, 1927 in Paris. His childhood was not rosy. A Greek father who fled, a feminist mother who quickly sent him to boarding school. She ended up in Greece at a religious boarding school, then with the sisters in Picpus between two stays with her aunt in Clermont-Ferrand. From this itinerant childhood, she developed a certain gift for adaptation and a sense of resourcefulness. As a child, she learned to read by deciphering newspapers. As she grew up, she sketched what she saw, drawing pictures that she gave to the sisters to improve her ordinary life. She entered with exemption at the age of 13 the Beaux-Arts in Clermont, but had to leave when the war broke out, placed on a farm as a cowherd. “I have never worked so much in my life,” she said, recounting her preference for the worker’s profession that she embraced upon her return to Paris.

It was also under the uniform of a winder for Jaeger and Pathé Marconi that she met Paul Éluard. During a book signing, the 50-year-old poet fell in love with the 20-year-old young woman. “ I was pretty to look at,” she agreed years later, before adding: “ I always had trouble distinguishing between love and friendship. » Éluard will turn away from her under pressure, from those around him embarrassed by the image this could give to the Communist Party. In return, he will offer him a book to illustrate, Grain d’aile.

His second decisive encounter took place on the heights of Nice. Having become a babysitter, the young girl sees Matisse observing flowers and birds every day. She writes to him that she is drawing and the painter invites her to his studio. She became his assistant for two years. She recounted these two years in Petite Main chez Matisse (Gallimard). “I gave him the colors, I prepared the paper. He let me draw after work and gave me advice. He taught me everything. »

It was also he who put her in touch with Prévert, of whom she would become the illustrator. Her line is inseparably linked to the famous Leaving school, its rhymes linked to the undulating railway that she drew. His drawn work will remain more widely attached to a generation of authors who offered children the best. This is how she suggested to Maurice Druon the idea of ​​an ecological tale which became Tistou les thumbs vertes.

Jacqueline Duhême was also part of the adventure of Elle magazine, Hélène Lazareff period, who hired her for the children’s pages at a time when the weekly wanted to be a laboratory for female readers. The boss asked him to illustrate the Kennedy couple’s official trip to France. Her colorful and alert reporting did not leave Jackie Kennedy indifferent. His drawings are now in the collections of the Kennedy Museum in Boston.

Jacqueline Duhême was definitely a “woman of letters.” In 2019, at the Forney library in Paris which dedicated a retrospective to her, we could admire the numerous missives that she sent to her writer friends, the text always embellished with delicious drawings which transformed each sending into a small work of art. When his death was announced, Gallimard Editions recalled his motto: “Drawing is a necessity, like giving a gift to someone you love. »