Henry Clews and His Enchanted Château de La Napoule

    Henry Clews and His Enchanted Château de La Napoule

     

           Imagine being born in America at the turn of the 20th century into the wealthy family of a well established Wall Street banker. So you are both handsome and rich. But how futile to hear the actual dollar figure! Let’s just say you are not in a bad position, even though rapid social and cultural changes are taking place around you. After finishing your education you enter your father’s banking firm, but it’s not long before you discover that finances are not your call in life. How disappointing! And what a waste of time! All those years of hard work at Columbia University … and then the time you’ve spent in Hanover continuing your studies…. it was all in vain. But it’s your life and you can’t live a lie. You feel inexplicably attracted to art – to painting and sculpting. So, to your father’s disappointment, you decide to try your hand at it. Money is not an issue, so you go back to your beloved Paris and rent a studio in Montmartre. Then for the next few years you keep traveling between Paris and New York, embarking on a career as a self-taught painter and sculptor. That’s Henry Clews. 

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    A Men’s Destiny

          It is 1901 and Henry Clews Jr. is now an expatriate living in Paris with his new wife, Louise Morris Gebhard, who just divorced her husband to merry him. But life doesn’t go so well between the two. Henry’s fascination with the bohemian artistic life doesn’t seem to be in tone with Louise’s aspirations for the high society. So by 1910 he is already divorced. But Henry’s destiny is going to take a turn.  Just a few years later, at a dog show in Rhode Island, he meets Elsie Whelen Goelet, one of the most beautiful women in America at the time. Henry and Elsie fall madly in love.  A coup de foudre, you could say. But there is only one problem: Elsie is a married woman with two children. Not exactly the ideal situation. Eventually, after much hesitation and anguish, she decides to leave New York, her husband and their children and follow Henry. So in 1914 Henry and Marie (as Henry renamed her) get married and move to Paris. They are in love. Sometimes they stroll for hours together, they laugh, they dine, they dance. They have a passion for each other and for the world of art. 

     

    Château de La Napoule
    Château de La Napoule, by L. Galffy

    Château de la Napoule       

          It is 1918 and Paris is torn by war, thousands of people are dying of influenza. Henry and Marie’s 3 year old son falls badly ill, so they are forced to move south in search of warmer weather. While living in Antibes, the couple hears about an abandoned 14 century castle for sale in La Napoule. They fall in love with it and decide to buy it and turn it into the castle of their dreams. So the Château de La Napoule gets completely rebuilt, stone by stone, according to their designs. But the restoration process would last almost 18 years. Marie’s purpose is to support her husband’s artistic efforts. Henry’s purpose is to isolate himself from the world: “Solitude is what I need, high walls and aloofness, a hidden corner to be alone with my dreams, away from humanity.” So you may rightly ask yourself: how did the handsome, wealthy artist, once the beau of Rhode Island, turn into a secluded hermit determined to live his life in isolation? Perhaps his disgust with the bourgeois society, perhaps his struggle to remain “pure” in a world where true nobility no longer existed.  

        In his quest for the truth, Henry Clews’ old obsession with Cervante’s Don Quixote grows even stronger. He begins to identify with the character, naming his son “Mancha” and his valet “Sancho.”  His sculptures also reflect a very bizarre symbolism, like the Christ-like martyr called the God of Humormystics, a life-size bronze statue displayed in the castle’s courtyard. The inscription over the entrance of his fairy tale-lile castle reads: Once Upon a Time. 

    Château Courtyard
    Château Courtyard, by L. Galffy

           The Chateau de la Napoule remained the Clews’ home and studio until Henry’s death on July 28, 1937. Marie died twenty two years later. After his death, Marie opened the château to the public. The two were buried side by side in their sculpted crypt in a sealed-off tower named the Tower of La Mancha. The tower was named in homage to Henry’s lifelong identification with Don Quixote de la Mancha. 

    The Tower of La Mancha
    The Tower of La Mancha

    As per their wishes, the two tombs have been left half-open so that their spirits can escape through a small window. At the top of the tower there is a secret room where they believed their souls would be reunited for eternity. 

     

     

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