Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau

Over the two decades of being by my artist husband’s side, I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked “Are you an artist too?” to which I inevitably reply, “My art is art de vivre” and, really, what could better describe a woman’s role in her family than being the creator/curator of the art of living? I happen to have had a professional life journey that prepared me for this responsibility, but no matter what our occupation is, in traditional families, it usually falls with us ladies to make sure our homes are beautiful and comfortable, our tables are well set, our special occasions are well celebrated, and our guests are well hosted and entertained. It takes an endless amount of paraphilia to structure this intricate flow of life but, above all, it takes curiosity and inspiration to make it all enjoyable, memorable and at times even a little magical. Luckily, history offers us an incredible array of brilliant minds with exquisite tastes and marvellous ideas, and fortunately, many of the best have been kind to share with us all their point of view, from society doyennes like Nan Kempner, Deeda Blair, Bunny Mellon, Marella Agnelli, Lee Radziwill, to the legendary creatives like Elise de Wolfe, Madeleine Castaing, Van Day Truex, Renzo Mongiardino, Billy Baldwin, Oscar de la Renta, Hubert de Givenchy (goodness, I can continue with the names forever), so much wisdom could be picked up from the books written by or about these legends. While I always strive to read all I can find to learn from the best, nothing compares to an actual, hands-on experience, and it sometimes happens that the most dreamlike elements come together for a moment in time that can only be described as magic.
Enter ‘Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau’ by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar at Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Invitation for private preview and dinner of the ‘Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau’ exhibition by artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar at the Villa Santo Sospir

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Public posters of the exhibition

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Public posters of the exhibition seen driving around Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

This exhibition was incredibly special – my husband, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, was the last artist to exhibit at the legend-filled Villa Santo Sospir in its original state, just the way Cocteau inhabited it, just the way it hosted the glitterati of the bygone era from Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse to Alexander Calder and Coco Chanel, as shortly after the exhibition, Villa Santo Sospir was closed down to be restored and renovated under the experienced hand of the current owner Ilia Melia, by the «Cultural Heritage» architect Antoine Bruguerolle, inimitable interior designer/decorator Jacque Grange, alongside legendary Maddison Cox who took care of the gardens, and highly skilled Florence Cremer, who restored the murals.

Image: © ERIC DULIERE/ZUMA PRESS

Pablo Picasso, Francine Weisweiller, Jacqueline Picasso, Jean Cocteau

Image: © PHOTO12/ALAMAY

Francine Weisweiller with Gabrielle Chanel

But let us begin with a little history of this gem of a place. Francine Weisweiller, the owner of the villa, was gifted this 1930s-built estate by her husband, Alec Weisweiller, a banker related to the Rothchild family, as a fulfilment of a promise, made as they were fleeting the Gestapo in the forests of Pau, to buy his wife a dream house if they survive. The purchase signified a new chapter in the lives of the Weisweillers. Francine became a figure of the social scene, as a client and a friend of Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. She appointed Madeleine Castaing, a friend, and a renowned eccentric Parisian decorator to work on the interiors of the Cap Ferrat house. Romanticist Castaing adorned the rooms with her signature heavily patterned fabrics and blue/green/red colour palette, as well as bamboo and rattan, both antique and contemporary, but left the walls white since this was, after all, a holiday house.

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Detail of the bar area with rattan furniture and Castaing’s signature pattered upholstery fabrics

Image: © FILIPPO BAMBERGHI

View of the dining room with rattan-clad walls and ceiling at Villa Santo Sospir decorated by Madeleine Castaing

In 1949 Ms. Weisweiller was introduced to Jean Cocteau by Nicole Stéphane (born de Rothschild), as Cocteau was shooting “Les Enfants Terribles”. Shortly after, Ms. Weisweiller invited Cocteau to spend a vacation in her villa. Jean Cocteau kindly accepted the offer. However, the artist soon grew tired of the leisurely holiday pace announcing, “I wither here” and made his first drawing – the head of Apollo, the Greek god of music, poetry, and art above the fireplace in the living room. This was the beginning of Cocteau paining the walls of the estate.

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

The view of the living room’s fireplace with the head of Apollo – the first drawing Cocteau made on the walls of Villa Santo Sospir and two sculptures by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Image: © ANDRÉ SARTRES / PARISMATCH / SCOOP

Jean Cocteau in the living room of Villa Santo Sospir

Cocteau famously said “ I didn’t have to dress the walls. I had to paint on their skin, that’s why I treated the frescoes linearly, with few colours that enhanced the tattoos. Santo Sospir is a tattooed villa”. When Jean Cocteau showed the first tattoo to his friend Henri Matisse, who found it beautiful, and advised “When you decorate a wall, you decorate the others”. Pablo Picasso also supported Cocteau and advised him to continue painting. Jean Cocteau covered almost every wall and ceiling of the house. He did not sketch, but used charcoal directly on the surfaces, and then painted over them with tempera (a term for frescoes technique that uses pigments mixed with raw milk).

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Cocteau’s signature adorning the walls

In total Cocteau created around 200 tattoos, as well as two mosaics and one tapestry in collaboration with legendary Abusson manufacture. The artist returned to the villa every summer and stayed there for almost eleven years until 1961 and even made a 35-minute film about the estate entitled “La Villa Santo-Sospir.”
Francine Weisweller stayed at Villa Santo Sospir until her death in 2003, at the age of 87. Francine’s only daughter Carole Weisweiller became the legal heir of the villa until 2016 when she sold the villa to current owners, the Melia family.

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Mayor of Saint- Jean-Cap-Ferrat Jean-Francois Dietrich, Olga Vashchilina, Ilia Melia, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar at the gardens of Villa Santo Sospir during the opening night of Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Fast forward several years ahead, and here we were, celebrating Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau, an exhibition by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar which included a sound installation simulating dialogue between Cocteau and Behnam-Bakhtiar based on snippets of 1962 short film recorded at the dining room of the villa and entitled ‘Jean Cocteau Addresses the Year 2000’, touching base on human values shared by Cocteau and Behnam-Bakhtiar, as well as 30 mixed-media large scale sculptures inspired by the frequent visitors of Cocteau at Santo Sospir – Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Charlie Chaplin, Vlaslav Nijinsky, Coco Chanel and all the people who have come and gone, leaving enchanting energy that engulfs the premises of this historical monument in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Each sculpture was painted in Behnam-Bakhtiar’s signature painting style and pays homage to the vibrant personalities who have passed through the legendary Villa Santo Sospir, and the traces they left behind, thus inviting current visitors to loose themselves amongst these characters and re-examine their own life paths.

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures and printed materials dedicated to the exhibition in the dining room of Villa Santo Sospir and in front of Cocteau’s tapestry

Image: © EDWARD QUINN

Jean Cocteau in the dining room of Villa Santo Sospir and in front of his tapestry

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Mr. Jean-Francois Dieterich and Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar event - Villa Santo-Sospir - Lily Cole, Nathalie Emmanuel and Kiera Chaplin posing

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Lily Cole, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kiera Chaplin

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar event - Villa Santo-Sospir - Nathalie Emmanuel and Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar shaking hands

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Nathalie Emmanuel, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar event - Villa Santo-Sospir - Exhibition ambiance

Image: © Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures in the gardens of Villa Santo Sospir

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar event - Villa Santo-Sospir - Nathalie Emmanuel posing

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Nathalie Emmanuel amongst the sculptures of Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Natalie Rushdie, Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Melissa Tarling, Richard Biedul, Natalie Emmanuel

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures in the gardens of Villa Santo Sospir

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Izabella Scott, Lily Cole, Tyrone Wood, Jo Wood, Natalie Rushdie, Nathalie Emmanuel

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Guests with Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures in the gardens of Villa Santo Sospir

Following the private view, guests were taken to the neighbouring Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat for a dinner under the stars celebrating the exhibition and paying homage to the end of an era for Villa Santo Sospir. Yours truly was appointed to handle the full event in all its complexities.

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Table set up at The Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Menu for the dinner that was prepared by Michelin star chef Yoric Tieche

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Dinner set up at The Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat

Image: © DAVID M. BENETT/DAVE BENETT/GETTY IMAGES FOR SASSAN BEHNAM BAKHTIAR

Jo Wood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lily Cole, Izabella Scott, sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Maria Behnam-Bakhtar, Tyrone Wood during the dinner at The Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat celebrating Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau

While I did my job (in beautiful Oscar de la Renta of course, which featured a print that to me resembled Cocteau’s linear drawings and scribbles), Tatler’s Bystander did their job at capturing the essence of this magical event:

“Last night saw the private view of ‘Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau’, the latest exhibition by multidisciplinary artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. Celebrities including Lily Cole, Nathalie Emmanuel and Jo Wood attended the event held at Villa Santo Sospir, the iconic home of Jean Cocteau in the heart of the French Riviera. Incredible artwork was the background to the private viewing, where guests sipped cocktails as they enjoyed the rare chance to explore the historic building before it undertakes a 3-year refurbishment after this show closes. One they had finished wandering through the impressive grounds, guests hot-footed it to dinner at the Grand-Hotel du Cap Ferrat.”  View article here.

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

The book published on the occasion of the Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau exhibition

Image: © MARIA BEHNAM-BAKHTIAR

Stacks of giveaway bags for the guests

Image: © LOIC THEBAUD

Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar and Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar at Villa Santo Sospir during the set up of the Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau exhibition

Much Love,

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