Try to imagine combining Florida art of the 1930’s with music by a contemporary Sarasota, Florida artist. About a year ago I was contacted by Duane Betts, a Sarasota musician, guitarist, and song writer who was coming out with a new album. Betts found my website, loved a painting by Sarasota artist Pierre Rochard, and wanted it for the cover of his new 2023 release, Wild and Precious Life. See www.duanebetts.bandcap.com. Listening to his music while working was for me, sublime, and prompted more research into Rochard. Here is what I found.
Pierre Rochard, Sarasota
If there was ever a Florida artist who lived the romantic ideal of the artist’s life, both its joys, sorrows, and tragedy, it was Pierre Rochard. Born in Lyon, France, Rochard studied art at the Ecole des beaus Arts and fencing at the Ecole Normale Miltaire de Manistique it d’ Escrime in Paris. He immigrated to the United States in 1890.
Rochard married a French woman, Magdalena Rochard in 1896. In 1902 the couple were living in New York City where Rochard painted murals for the Metropolitan Opera House and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. They later moved to Washington, D.C. where Rochard helped restore Brumidi’s murals in the Senate Wing of the United States Capitol.
The couple divorced ten years later. The Virginian-Pilot, March 11, 1912, described their life together, date lined Colorado, March 10. “Slaves years for artist husband; gets divorce, patiently endures hardships and hunger, believing his talent would be recognized. Forced to seek divorce. ‘Last Christmas we sat in a room without a fire, water pipes burst and not a bite to eat. Did he care? No, he thought only of his art. It was art, art, art. It should have been money, money and food.’ But she still loves him.”
By 1914 Rochard was working in Salt Lake City, his studio in the Constitution Building was filled with paintings of the mountains and streams of the Salt Lake including The Nymphs of the Rockies, a painting seven by fifteen feet and “pronounced a masterpiece by critics of Denver and Salt Lake.”
Having trained at a famed Parisian fencing school, Rochard began teaching fencing at the University of Utah in the Fall of 1915. Graduates of the French school were important figures for fencing in America, sought by athletic clubs and universities across the country.
Moving west from Utah, Rochard settled in Los Angeles, opening a studio on the corner of St. Paul Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. His Nymphs of the Rockies on display. In 1919 Rochard painted a series of murals for the dining room of the famed Raymond Hotel in Pasadena. Two were large murals, 14 by 16 feet, one of Mount Lowe as seen from Mount Wilson, and the other a scene on the coast at Santa Monica. A third mural depicted the fruits of California.
Rochard taught French in the Los Angeles public schools, and fencing at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. Rochard was active in Los Angles until 1931 when he moved to Sarasota opening a studio in the annex of the Mira Mar Hotel. He joined Sarasota’s French Club, open to all persons of French origin and all Americans interested in learning French.
In 1938 Mrs. Pierre Rochard was living in Washington, D. C. and described herself as the “widow of a French artist killed in World War I.” Hanging in a place of honor in her home was an oil painting of a blind cat the couple had taken in, painted by Rochard in 1902.
Rochard’s painting, Burial of Sara de Sota, was published in the Sarasota Herald, March 5, 1939. The caption reads, “Pierre Rochard, Sarasota’s artists’ conception of the burial in ‘the most beautiful landlocked bay in all the world,’ of Sara, daughter of the famed Spanish explorer. As a final gesture of his love, Chichi Okobee, a young Indian chieftain, begs permission from de Soto to bury the remains of his beloved and to go with her body to forever guard her last resting place. This scene will be depicted in the dramatization of the Legend of Sara de Sota pageant feature in Municipal Auditorium, Thursday night.”
Years after Rochard had restored paintings for the U.S. Senate, a law was passed where he could no longer work for the government until he received his naturalization papers. At the age of 84 Rochard traveled to the Federal Courthouse in Tampa to become a naturalize American citizen. The Tampa Times, January 7, 1943 quotes him. “Now I can go back to work. I left Sarasota at 4 o’clock this morning so I’d be sure to get here on time for this great event. I will open my own studio now. You’ll have to come down and see my paintings.”
Rochard eventually moved to Fort Myers. In failing health, a benefit art exhibit of his work was held in the Bigelow Building on Fort Myers Beach on July 9, 1950, while he was seriously ill and hospitalized at Lee Memorial Hospital. He died at Lee Memorial on July 18, 1950.Born: June 10, 1869, Lyon, France.
Died: July 18, 1950, Fort Myers. Education: Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. Membership: Sarasota Art Association. Exhibits: Architectural League of New York; Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York; New York Metropolitan Opera House; Sarasota Art Association, Cain Building, Orange Avenue, Art in Our Town, December 1939; Sarasota Art Association, March 1940, 10th Annual Members Exhibition, Careless Bundle of Roses. Directory: Listed in the Sarasota City Directory, 1936-1940, as an artist with a studio at 218 McAnsh Square.