Bernard Pfriem, American (1916 - 1996)

Bernard Pfriem

Bernard Pfriem, the American painter who founded the Lacoste School of the Arts in 1970. A French-American sculptor, living in France, spent a summer in the 1980’s at Lacoste and speaks of the grip of Bernard’s charisma and artistic passion, and the long nights in semi-derelict quarters chatting with Bernard and with other artists and students under the star-flecked warm limpid Provencal night skies.

An artist born, Pfriem came to Paris on the G.I. Bill in the early 50’s and immersed himself in the Boho scene of intellectuals and artists, and the cult of the surrealists. Lacoste, and its Marquis De Sade imagery of surreal naughtiness, drew him in, and by the late 50’s, the village-in-ruin became a beloved painting that he never would finish.

When the iconic free-spirited British-born socialite Maxime de la Falaise took Bernard Pfriem as a lover (she was the one who did the choosing; her list of victims is impressive), she created his own fashion school.

When the ever restless Maxime moved on, Pfriem launched his concept of the Lacoste School of Arts, which became associated with his alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The dilapidated houses – they had no roofs as that exempted owners from taxes –were easy prey for Phriem. He bought the old Boulangerie for one refrigerator. And to think that Calder purchased his first home in Sache for three mobiles – what a rip-off in comparison. Phriem expanded his holdings by paying $500 for twenty-odd derelict structures.

No one came to replace Pfriem’s huge magnetic effect on students. Today, Lacoste is a rented world. There is no permanent faculty at SCAD, Lacoste; instructors, who are ferried in along with the students for each quarter of classes, are bereft of any attachment to the village nor to France. (Most American colleges with year-abroad programs in France, such as Wellesley and Vanderbilt in nearby Aix-en-Provence, offer classes conducted by French faculty.)

The exhibition at the Galerie Pfriem on rue Trophime features some of Pfriem’s original works, a biographical video and ephemera of his artistic achievements and life in his Lacoste.

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