Portraits: British 20th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects, South East England: Artists and Subjects 32 Could anyone tell us more about Professor Jules Desseignet?

ABD_RGU_DSCFA7154
Topic: Subject or sitter

Having better identified the artist here, via the discussion on his portrait of Professor Stewart D. F. Salmond, can we get further on the sitter?
https://www.artuk.org/artdetective/discussions/discussions/whose-device-is-on-this-portrait-of-a-man-in-academic-robes

It has already been suggested that he is likely to have been co-author, with René Lanson, of 'La France et Sa Civilisation: de la Révolution à Nos Jours' (London, 1922, and later editions) and perhaps himself later a Professor at Reading University. I note that he is called 'formerly a Lecturer at Aberdeen University' in connection with a group of letters from him while serving in the French army in Salonika in 1917–1918. These form section 59 (iii) in the papers of the Very Revd Sir George Adam Smith (1856–1942) who was Principal of Aberdeen University, 1910–1935, and Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, 1916 (National Library of Scotland, Acc. 9446: https://www.nls.uk/catalogues/online/cnmi/inventories/acc9446.pdf

Professor Jules Desseignet is listed as a founder member of the Senate of Reading University in Schedule 1, part III, attached to its founding Charter of 1926: page 16 in the online PDF at https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/calendar2006-07/echarterofincorporation-0607.pdf

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

32 comments

That's been resolved Martin, and is already updated here with his full name and dates, from the Salmond discussion: this is now a case of 'corroborate sitter'.

Kieran Owens,

Additionally, in the early 1900s, and specifically in 1911, both Professor Jules Desseignet and his wife, as well as J. A. H. Hector and his own spouse, were members of the Franco-Scottish Society based in Aberdeen.

Osmund Bullock,

Welcome back, Kieran - but you should read the other discussion from which this is a spin-off (see link at top), where an identical obit from a sister newspaper is already posted.

The reminder of Hector's love for France is helpful, though - in fact a mini-biog on Desseignet I'm working on reveals that both he and Hector were members of the Aberdeen branch of the Franco-Scottish Society, and both were present with their wives at a meeting of it on 25 Oct 1911 (attached 1), and very possibly had met the previous March when Desseignet stepped in as a substitute for an indisposed lecturer (attached 2).

Osmund Bullock,

Hah! You are indeed back, and beating me to it as usual!

Osmund Bullock,

If you want to take over that's absolutely fine by me; but I'll quickly give the basics of what I already have.

Desseignet was appointed an assistant lecturer in French at Aberdeen U. early in 1911 (before 19 March). In August 1914 he was called up as an 'other ranks' reservist in the French Army, and served with them 1914-19 in France and later on the Balkan front – his translating skills there led to a commission and appointment as a staff interpreter. As the first member of the faculty to be on active service he had the status (probably honorary) of ‘lecturer’ conferred on him in 1914, and he kept university colleagues updated on his experience of the war in a stream of letters (and on his return lectured on the same subject).

In May 1920 he received his substantive appointment as a full lecturer, in commercial French, but the following October resigned to take up the Professorship of French at University College, Reading (later Reading University). He remained there and in post until at least 1948, living with his wife near Henley-on-Thames.

Kieran Owens,

Thank you Osmund but I was only making a brief offering, being unaware of the other discussion and of your own deeper interest. I have no desire to interfere but only to assist. As thus....

Sometime before 1911, it appears that Professor Desseignet married a lady named Clementine, who, according to the 1939 Register, was born on the 8th May 1878. They had at least one child, Marie T., born on the 9th September 1918, who married, in c. October 1944, a chap named Chalumeau. Together that couple had a child, Jean C. Chalumeau, who was born in Reading in 1946, and who could still be alive today.

Perhaps related, a Christian D. Chalumeau married, at Watford in 1973, a Jacqueline Stearman, and this couple had a son, Eden Chalumeau, who was born in South Glamorgan in 1975.

If connected, surviving members of this family line might have photographs of Professor Desseignet, which might help confirm the identity of him as the sitter in this portrait. It is strange but I can find no reference to the deaths in England or elsewhere, of the Professor nor of his wife, through any of the usual online resources.

There are several records of Clementine sailing between Plymouth and Marseilles during the 1920s. This might be to visit her or their French families.

Osmund Bullock,

Not a deeper interest, really – just answering Pieter’s question in my usual methodical, but achingly slow way!

I've so far been unable to discover Jules D's year of birth, marriage or death, all of which were probably in France – and as French official vital records lack any national indexes, you generally need to know exactly what district/town to look in. He was apparently from the Lyon area (see attached), so it might be worth checking the Lyon civil registration indexes. His full name, incidentally, was Jean Jules Desseignet – it’s occasionally given in records, but very seldom. Unfortunately he and his wife Clementine must have just missed the 1911 Scotland Census on 2nd April, though in fact he was already there (and in post).

However as Kieran has discovered, the 1939 Register gives us a birth date for his wife in May 1878, and for his daughter Marie-Thérèse in Sep 1912 (corrected from 1918). These concur with the ages given for Clementine in her numerous recorded trips to the south of France between 1925 and 1936, and for that of Marie-Thérèse in 1936 – Marie-T also went in 1938 but no age is given, and she was using a different version of her surname ‘Guinet-Desseignet’. Was Guinet her mother’s maiden name, perhaps? Sep 1918 would indeed be surprising as in Dec 1917 when she would have been conceived her father was on active war service in Eastern Europe! It is odd, though, that no birth for her is recorded in Scotland – her mother must have travelled to France to have her child, though she had only just been appointed (in March/April 1912) as a French teacher at Aberdeen High School. More of the last later, as it’s quite an interesting story.

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Osmund Bullock,

But not nearly as interesting as this, translated from here: https://bit.ly/2H5rXTv

“In the Boulevard Saint-Germain is the Museum of the Manuscript, whose existence I confess to having discovered by browsing the exhibitions of the week in Pariscope. And in fact it was they who suggested a visit to see the secret messages sent by General de Gaulle during the Second World War – an exciting temporary exhibition which also led us to visit the permanent collection, which is just as exciting. But let's start with de Gaulle.

At the University of Reading, Berkshire, just under 70 kilometers from London (sorry, 43 miles ...), where Oscar Wilde was eight months in prison and where more recently Jacqueline Bisset lived for some time, a Frenchman by the name of Desseignet, married to an Englishwoman [sic], taught French. In 1940 it had been fourteen years since he’d arrived there with his fourteen-year-old daughter Marie-Thérèse – she was now twenty-eight, and De Gaulle invited her father to be his representative in the counties of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Marie-Thérèse, who had trained as a typist, would run the secretariat at the General’s headquarters at 4 Carlton Gardens in London. On May 30, 1943, de Gaulle arrived in Algiers and settled at the Villa des Glycines. Marie-Therese accompanied him. After the landings of June 6, 1944, de Gaulle arrived at Courseulles [the west end of Juno Beach in the invasion] on June 14. Before accompanying him to France, Marie-Thérèse went to collect her belongings at the Villa des Glycines and there she found at the bottom of an empty cupboard an old file containing 313 secret manuscript messages that the General had written between 1940 and 1942, and that she had typed up and telegraphed.

Twice – in 1945 again in 1958 – Marie-Thérèse tried to return them to the General; but he declined them, feeling that the originals “should stay in good hands". He had in any case already copied and kept in his possession the text of those he intended to publish as an appendix to his memoirs. The current exhibition displays about 200 of these originals.”

A further link in French with even better photos and more information: https://bit.ly/33w1IiD
And one in English telling a less detailed version of the story: https://bit.ly/2H5UsjN

Osmund Bullock,

Marie-Thérèse died in 1996 – she is buried at Le Mayet-de-Montagne, 70 or 80 miles WNW of Lyon. Her husband was French Air Force Colonel Robert Chalumeau. Their son Jean-Claude (b. 29/4/1946), who sold the manuscript messages to the museum after his mother’s death, was apparently still living in 2016. There are several men of the name listed in France, and I don’t know which is him – the Museum would probably forward a message, but perhaps it’s not important enough.

Osmund Bullock,

I should have attached the 1939 Register entry for Marie-Thérèse (showing her DOB corrected to 1912) and her mother Clementine. Herewith. They were living in Kingwood Common near Henley, though they seem to have moved there from Reading only a year or two earlier.

I sent an email yesterday to the Archivist at Reading University (with this link) enquiring if they have any image of Desseignet, though likely to be later- perhaps in some professorial photo line-up or an institutional obituary. I hope they at least see the above: quelle histoire!

Guy Baxter, Associate Director (Archive Services), University of Reading has kindly emailed the following information:
'Many thanks for your enquiry.
The University's records are not fully catalogued, so I am afraid that this is not going to be straightforward. My colleague (to whom I've cc'd this) may have come across some relevant records in her work so she will be able to take a brief look on her return from leave next week.
I do have some basic details from our published annual reports. Professor Desseignet was indeed Professor of French and joined on 8 November 1920. At that time this institution was called University College Reading and was an extension College of Christchurch College Oxford. As you have already noted, he continued to serve following the granting of the Charter and the change of name to the University of Reading. He retired in 1951. On 12 July that year he was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French Ambassador.
Sadly these publications are not illustrated. However, there is an image (reproduced from the Berkshire Chronicle) in the 1952 Old Students' Magazine, showing Desseignet receiving his Legion d'Honeur. Please find a scan of this attached for your reference. As it's in profile and about 40 years later, it may not help much with sitter identity...
I hope that this is, nonetheless, of some help to you.’

The PDF of the frontispiece of the Students' Magazine is attached.

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We are very grateful to Sharon Maxwell, Archivist (Cataloguing & Projects), University of Reading, who has sent another image of Professor Desseignet dating to around 1922. The date has been assumed from the fact that the photographer appears to have ceased working in 1922.

The picture is in the attached PDF.

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I think that's a good match- the same piercing, tight-lipped look from under a firm brow, the straight nose and the general relationship of main facial features. If he joined Aberdeen University in March 1911, one can't date the oil much earlier than the c. 1912 date it already has. If his wife was born, as already noted, in 1878 and he retired from Reading in 1951 and one assumes they were about the same age, then he would have retired at 72/73, so he might even have been a little younger than her. The fact he is wearing a hat in the oil means nothing in itself but if it shows him in his late 20s or early 30s, then it is certainly possible he was already starting to go bald, but he was also young enough to see service in WWI from 1914; though perhaps that was partly because already a reservist, and it may not have been front-line.

Osmund Bullock,

I agree that – with ten years between – it’s a decent match for Jules Desseignet...but not absolutely certain: if only we could find an earlier bearded image. Having said that, the painting is a small sketch 12” high, owned privately and probably of a personal nature – it seems unlikely his name would have been attached to it if it wasn’t him. And the sitter does look rather non-British in face and style.

I think you’re right that he was younger than his wife. When the French Army was mobilized on 1st Aug 1914 apparently only reservists aged 24-30 were initially called up. If so, he must have been born between Aug 1883 & July 1890. This is supported by Aberdeen U’s Roll of Service (https://bit.ly/2Z4l0w1) which says his national service was in 1905. 1905 was actually when universal national service (for two years) was re-introduced in France, so it was probably when his started, not finished. And since it normally commenced aged 20, I think it is reasonable to tighten that birth year spread to c.1884-85, or perhaps ‘circa 1884’ to allow for a slightly late start to his nat. service. Various reports (e.g. those posted by Kieran, and several others) do state, by the way, that his earlier WWI service was at or near the front line, as an infantry private in Alsace. Later in the Balkans, and still at the front, his language skills ultimately led to his withdrawal to headquarters duties and commissioning as an officer.

There’s a little more on this and on his French academic history in the following two attachments.

Osmund Bullock,

Clementine died on 6th Nov 1960 at Villebon-sur-Yvette just south of Paris, but was buried 300 km further south at Montlucon** – it was in The Times (attached). Jules seems to have been still living at the time.

I have checked a number of ‘Who’s Who in France’ volumes from 1955-56 to 2004-05 for him, his daughter and her husband, and his grandson. Nothing there, though I believe the last, Jean-Claude Chalumeau, may be found in at least one later volume – unfortunately 2005 was the last the library had. Professor Jules was also not in UK Who’s Who. It is possible that the Institut français du Royaume-Uni in South Kensington may have more information on his vital dates – he was several times a guest there at important events in the 1930s, and quite likely a member.

[**In case Montlucon was an old family home for either of them, I checked the commune’s 10-year marriage index 1903-12 for Desseignet (and also Guinet in case that was her maiden name), and while I was at it the 1873-82 & 1883-92 births index there for both, but without success. As I mentioned before, if you know the exact commune (or in a big city, arrondissement), French civil records are wonderfully detailed. If you don’t you are completely stuck!]

Kieran Owens,

As mentioned at the bottom of the entry on the Française Libre website, the 2013 edition of "Qui est Qui en France" carries a listing for Jean-Claude Chalumeau, giving details of the family.

The letter from Desseignet cited in the Aberdeen paper dated 18 Nov 1915, in Kieran's list of four above, is likely to be one of those now in Section 59 (iii) of the papers of Sir George Adam Smith in the National Library of Scotland: theres probably a little research project there for someone interested in Scottish or French WWI personal histories.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes indeed, Kieran (once I realised you meant the Français Libres [sic] website linked to before, https://bit.ly/33w1IiD !) – that was how I knew he'd been in a later edition, and who his father was. But the extract there omits any detail of where he was then living or working, which we'd need should we wish to try and contact him. It turns out it'll be impossible to do so via the Musée des lettres et manuscrits, as the museum is no more and the man who ran it is in a lot of trouble: https://bbc.in/2Z3Up2n

Osmund Bullock,

I've managed to cheat Jean-Claude Chalumeau's entry from the snippet views of 'Qui est Qui en France' 2013 on Google Books (https://bit.ly/2Z9GIPp) - see attached. It's barely legible, but the details I can make out unhappily coincide with those of a death announcement in Le Figaro the following year (also attached) - M. Chalumeau died on 15th Feb 2014 at the age of 67 and was buried at Ciboure where he lived, ten miles down the Basque coast from Biarritz.

However, I've managed to identify one of his two sons, and will attempt to make contact.

Bonne chance with that: the Chalumeau entry also shows that in 1946 le Prof et Mme D. were living in Caversham, Berks, in case that might lead to anything useful.

Osmund Bullock,

Pieter, I have a timeline of where they lived 1920s-50s, but didn't think it was interesting enough to share. I suppose I might as well - will pull together and post later. (Could also do Aberdeen if you're really interested.) The most significant detail is when they apparently left, presumably for France (prob. 1952) - and that they christened their last home near Henley 'Desscot' as an amalgamation of Dess(eignet) and Cot(tage)!

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks for that, Pieter. I have quite a lot to add – not least because I've heard back from Jules Desseignet's gt-grandson Clément in France via Facebook, and he has been immensely helpful. His father Jean-Claude actually wrote a fully-illustrated book on his family's history, and it includes a great deal on Jules with photos. I have his years of birth (1886), marriage (1909) and death (1966), with much else besides; and in my view the photos (though earlier) confirm beyond reasonable doubt our sitter's identity as Desseignet. It'll take me a while to write things up, and I also want to check with Clément that he's OK with me sharing on here the photos and a few pages from the book that he's sent me. But I will just mention that Marie-Thérèse used a double-barrelled surname because she was adopted – Guinet was her birth name.

I think there may have been a misunderstanding by Sharon Maxwell at Reading U. about the date of the photograph she so kindly provided. Walton Adams himself, who had started his Reading business in 1886, did indeed retire in 1922. However the Blagrave Street premises were then sold to another company, and continued to operate under the name "Walton Adams & Son" at the same address - there are telephone directory listings for them there every year from 1922 to 1969. The business then changed hands once more, and moved to 1 Prospect Street, Caversham where it was again listed under the same name, and continued to be so until very recently.

I must confess that I was surprised to see the photo dated as early 1922, and I'm pretty sure now it's somewhat later.

Osmund Bullock,

While I await Clément Chalumeau’s response I will add a couple of things from my own research.

The appointment of Jules Desseignet’s wife Clémentine as French mistress at Aberdeen Girls’ High School in 1912 was controversial. Two weeks after the recommendation by the High School committee, it came before the full School Board and much argument ensued. This was to some extent about the lack of competition for the post – but she was clearly highly-qualified, and unlike any other perhaps suitable candidates, already present in Aberdeen. The main reason, however, was that she was a married woman, and that was anathema to many of the board (a wife’s place was in the home). A few wanted to block her appointment altogether, while a progressive group wanted it to go ahead without any reservation, and set a healthy precedent thereby. Ultimately her appointment was confirmed, but it had to carry a rider that it was only because of “exceptional circumstances” [See attached]. The past is a foreign country...

Osmund Bullock,

Here’s a list of the Desseignet family homes in the UK 1913-52. Previous experience suggests the clear format I’ve given it will be lost if I try and post the text here, so I’m attaching it as a pdf. As you can see, Pieter, the reference to Jean-Claude Chalumeau’s birthplace as Caversham in 1946 was a red herring as far as family residence is concerned – he was most probably born at Caversham Grove (now Highdown School, Emmer Green), which was a maternity hospital in the 1940s before the NHS was founded.

This is, I know, of limited interest and/or relevance, but it does at least give us an approximate date of late 1951 / early 1952 for the Dessiegnets final return to France – i.e. soon after his retirement at the age of 65 as Professor of French Language & Literature at Reading in the summer of 1951.

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Osmund Bullock,

Jules Desseignet was, it seems, quite a well-known and progressive teacher. In the other discussion Martin drew our attention to his (co-authored) book, 'La France et sa civilisation, de la Révolution à nos jours'. Jean-Claude Chalumaeau’s family history** relates that this was published in 1922 with his friend René Lanson, a history and geography teacher, and that it was a short work intended for foreign students studying French who wanted to know and understand more about the country. The book was very successful and ran to many editions, especially in the US. According to Chalumeau it is still in use today, and figures prominently in libraries and second-hand bookstores specializing in works on civilization.

Even more forward-looking was Jules’s participation in 1929 in a joint project of several universities with the Linguaphone Institute to create a quasi-interactive contemporary French language course on records. This caught the tenor of the times and the attention of the press (“Talking to a Robot”), and also seems to have been very successful – advertisements for the course, all of them mentioning Desseignet’s involvement, are found in newspapers from England, America and even Iceland throughout the 1930s, and a Dutch magazine was still carrying an ad for it in 1964. See two attachments.

[**Clément Chalumeau has said he’s happy for me to share on AD the photos from his late father’s book, and the information from the text, but he’d rather I didn’t post the text itself. This will mean a bit more work translating and précising, so bear with me. I am nevertheless extremely grateful to M. Chalumeau for all the assistance he’s given me, and for the very helpful photos which I’ll be posting shortly.]

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