A naively French artist

Genevieve Terver-Noel’s paintings show blue-green countrysides and dreamy summer picnics painted in quiet but intense explosions of color.

Genevieve Terver-Noel painting_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Genevieve Terver-Noel painting_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many, many years ago, a popular brand of cakes sold in supermarkets throughout the US used to market its wares with an advertising jingle that sang, “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee!” At present, the Tel Aviv art scene is colorfully enriched by an exhibition of a type of art that nobody doesn’t like. The Gallery of International Naïve Art (GINA) is presenting “Reveries,” a collection of recent paintings by Genevieve Terver- Noel. In a series of tranquil outdoor vistas and mind-grabbing interior scenes, Terver-Noel presents the heart and soul of France in rustic farms, dreamy late-summer picnics along the bend of a gurgling stream, tall dark pine trees, lush grass and billowing canopies of bright white clouds – all painted in quiet but intense explosions of color.
What’s not to like?
Says Dan Chill, GINA owner and exhibition curator, “Genevieve Terver- Noel is unique in that she ‘dances at two weddings’ artistically. She not only dances at the wedding of the Naïves, but she’s dancing also at the wedding of the Impressionists.
“She has an impressionistic gloss in her paintings that enables us to see the soul of France. She has a style that includes many of the wonderful characteristics of the Naïve art world. She has the enchanting innocence. Every scene is idealized and everyone in it is happy. She has the punctilious attention to minute detail. A tree has to have, say, 3,735 leaves or for the artist it’s not a tree. She has the simple, accessible, easy-to-understand scenes and the heartwarming, inviting colors.
“But, she does not have the characteristic childlike perspective of Naïve art. Her perspective is not childlike. She has more depth to her perspective, giving us a more panoramic, multi-angled view of the scene, whether it’s an interior scene or a landscape. As a result, we see things through a different eye than other Naïve artists. Like them, she is untrained, but her eye is trained, affording her a very precise way of looking at the scene.”
How is it possible for an artist to be untrained and yet have a trained eye?
“It’s a talent inside you,” Chill insists. “I believe that the great artists of the world are not great artists because they went to school. I mean – okay, I don’t include Jackson Pollock among the great artists. But when you think about it, what school taught Jackson Pollock to spray paint on canvas? I think that the inspiration for great artists, whether it be a Picasso or a Van Gogh, is within. Education helps bring it out, but many of these great artists could have taught themselves. And I think that Genevieve Terver-Noel is someone who has taught herself how to paint.”
Indeed she did. Born 76 years ago to French colonial parents in Mogador (now called Essaouira) on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, Terver-Noel showed an early love for painting as she was growing up.
“I have always painted,” she recalls, “since I was a child at school.”
She left Mogador and its “300 days of wind” to attend high school in Marrakech where, she says, “my teacher always told me I should study fine arts, but I was the eldest of 10 children, so I immediately started working as a teacher of small children. So, I never studied art, never ‘learned’ it. But whenever I became depressed, I would paint – alone and at home. Then slowly but surely, I started to paint a bit every week, and then every day. And when I would begin to paint, I would forget about everything. Then and now, I am very happy when I paint.”
Terver-Noel moved to France in 1957 and settled in the city of Metz, where she worked as an elementary school teacher for the next 25 years. She finally picked up her brush to become a full-time professional artist in 1982.
Was she aware that she was painting in a style known as “Naïve art”?
“No, not at all,” she declares. “I don’t know how to paint. I never studied. I never learned. I paint what I feel.”
And what Terver-Noel feels is, quite simply, France. And the France that she feels and shows to the viewer of her paintings is an almost magic land of rolling blue-green countryside; of sturdy little country houses with bright red roofs; of horses grazing in lush green meadows; of neat, leafy town squares crowded with people almost drunk on the happiness of being alive. It is a France of gala symphony concerts enjoyed by common country folk, of festive parties in art museums, and of lazy summer rowboat rides on cool, shady forest streams.
Says Chill, “She captures France with an eye that is very perceptive, an eye that is very exacting in trying to catch the change of colors in the trees as the sunlight begins to fade in late afternoon. She’s got an eye that enables her to capture the sunlight as it is filtered through the trees, and the changes in color of the leaves, which is very special.
“This enables us to visit a France that some of us may know, but many of us do not know. She enables us to appreciate the soul of France. It may be a France that is unfortunately fading and not quite the same as it was in her youth, but still it’s the France of the past 40 or 50 years.”
Terver-Noel has had solo exhibitions in Switzerland and, of course, in France. Her paintings have also been included in group exhibitions in France, Switzerland, Japan and the US.
“Reveries” is her first solo exhibition in Israel, a place that resonates with her on a personal level. She says, “Together with me in school in Mogador were all kinds of children – Muslims, Jews and Christians. We were all together, and we were all friends. And now, there are a lot of people from Morocco living here in Tel Aviv. I hope to see some of them while I am here, perhaps even two or three old friends.”
Today, Terver-Noel lives in Paris, where she continues to paint every day. “I work every morning, for approximately three hours,” she says. “The paintings are very detailed, and it’s already somewhat hard on my eyes.”
Her artistic vision remains unaffected by age, however. Chill remarks, “Like all Naïve artists, Terver-Noel is a storyteller, celebrating the human narrative. She allows us to appreciate the stories of common people engaging in everyday activities, whether this is a picnic in the grass out in the backyard of a lovely home, or people enjoying a beautiful symphony. Or people who are simply out and about, engaging in their regular activities in the market in Paris.
“The result of her unique perspective is that you can almost touch the trees. You can almost hear the melodies of the lullaby that the mother is singing to her baby as they lie together on the lush, green grass. You can almost hear the music filtering from the symphony hall. You see a bird flying and can almost hear the trill of that bird as it soars through the heavens. You sense the reality of each scene, but it’s an enchantingly innocent, wonderful view of reality that you can look at with a great deal of joy. She offers us joie de vivre.”
“Genevieve Terver-Noel: Reveries” is showing until 8 July at the Gallery of International Naïve Art, Rehov Dizengoff 255, Tel Aviv. Monday- Thursday 12 to 9; Friday and holiday eves 10 to 2. For further information call (03) 544-4150.