IV. Tangible and intangible heritage
If there is one item that symbolises the MFO's heritage it is Aristide Maillol's statue of Flore, numbered 2/6. On its base, the "M" for Maillol appears with the foundry's mark and a note of the process, "C. Valsuani Cire Perdue" (some documents in the archives wrongly describe it as a sand casting by Rudier). This anonymous photograph is dated 12 December 1967, just one month after the opening of the Norham Road building and was published in the Oxford Mail. It shows the statue flanked by a large snow dog, made by the students. The caption under the photograph in the album, “The cold companions”, refers not only to the Oxonian winter but also to the opening scene of All's Well that Ends Well, the term 'cold companion' referring to virginity – “by being ever kept, it is ever lost: 'tis too cold a companion; away with't!”. The overt sexuality of the statue was a cause célèbre from the beginning of the MFO, at Norham Road, and long remained so.
In 1967, the interior design of Norham Road was the subject of much attention, particularly the lounge and the dining room, considered to be the formal rooms. These photographs show the dining room. Since the creation, in 1964, of the Atelier de Recherche et de Création by Malraux, within the Mobilier National, it was possible to have prototypes made. These 24 chairs made of chromed steel, leather and rosewood, designed by Claude Lalanne in 1965, actually have a name - "coffee beans". According to the website of the Mobilier National and to Phillips, who sold the original set in 2009, the model was so named because it was designed for the offices of Olivier de la Baume, director of La Maison du Café. The leather seat has five "beans", the backrest has two. The chairs were specially designed for the MFO by the T.F.M. company, and in contrast to subsequent editions by Zol they are dark brown, like Lalanne's prototypes, rather than black. At the back is the Eurythmie tapestry woven by the weaver Pinton Frères in Felletin (Aubusson tapestry) in 1965, based on a 1964 design by Yves Millecamps purchased by the Mobilier National. It is a composition of substantial proportions (2.20 x 4.55), is rather dark, and dates from the artist’s geometric period. The tapestry is signed at the lower left and the mark of the workshop is on the bolduc. Below, one can see the sideboard which was used to display vases and bowls, some from Sèvres. A white, spidery chandelier completed this outstanding ensemble, which was positioned so that it could be seen as soon as the door and the mobile teak walls, designed by Auguste Anglès to vary the space on the ground floor, were opened.
The MFO's missions required that the gardens be sufficiently extensive but they were not intended to reflect French art in the same way as the interiors. In its various forms, the Maison was French inside and English outside. It was the gardens, its direct links with the college estate in the university area (St Hugh's, St John's) and its willingness to blend into the landscape, even in Norham Road, that helped to give it a “mini-college” status in the eyes of Oxonians and guests alike. A plan detailing the garden species at 72 Woodstock Road is shown here. Dated 1 October 1953 and made for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was in fact signed by the famous landscape designer Robert Joffet. Joffet - who was responsible for Vichy's hygiene policy in Parisian gardens, then appointed after the war to the post of chief curator of the city's gardens and parks - had come to Oxford in 1952 to study the creation of his "Shakespeare Garden" at the Pré Catelan. In addition to the gardens of the Colleges, it was therefore only natural that he should find inspiration in the Shakespearean Fluchère, who received him at the MFO, in The Shrubbery.
The memory of the dinners organised in honour of guests survives in the MFO archives in the form of typed seating plans around the menus, preserved mainly from the reopening in Norham Road in 1967. The example presented here, dated 5 December 1979, was the occasion of Jacques Derrida's second visit to Oxford for a conference entitled “The Teaching of Philosophy”, chaired by Alan Montefiore. The speciality of the speakers determined the list of guests at the MFO; a member of staff and a French student were routinely invited. In addition to the director Henry Bouillier, the sécretaire générale Jeanne Gandrey de Quercize and Wilfrid Rotgé, a French student in residence on the MFO side, there were Ann Wordsworth and her husband Jonathan, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Dummett, together with the Professors of French Literature C. A. Robson, R. Golthorpe, P. Hoy, and their spouses. The dinner cost a reasonable amount, £89.90 for twenty people. The ingredients were ordered from the MFO’s usual suppliers at that time - Argyle, on Banbury Road, for the fish, Hedges Brothers for the meat. The house cook, Christian Picaud, kept to the tradition of French-style bourgeois cooking: fish soup (mussels, monkfish, haddock, cod and salmon), coq au vin and pommes paille, salad, cheese and omelette norvégienne.
The 1950s were the golden age of garden parties at the MFO, with up to 1800 guests attending in the gardens of The Shrubbery. These receptions were made permanent by Henri Fluchère following the success of the opening party on 4 June 1948. The garden parties reflected another quality of the first director of the MFO: his gifts as a communicator. With photographers and journalists, he transformed a modest occasion that could have remained private and academic into "the most noticed social event in Oxford", bringing together town and gown. There were artists, academics (including non-Oxonians, that Fluchère wished to thank for inviting him to give lectures), diplomats, leaders of industry, figures from the local authorities (the Mayor, the police chief, MPs) and church representatives. Among members of the French community at large, there were secondary school teachers of French and expatriates. Fluchère could count on the help of the Oxonian steering committee, ambassadors, cultural attachés and vice-chancellors who never failed to show up. The tradition was taken up again by François Bédarida in 1968, on a smaller scale (500 to 600 guests) and with a more festive character, as evidenced in particular by the small, themed wooden cabins built for the occasion.