Claude Bernard, the galerist who played the organ

parisdiaArt, History7 Comments

Claude Bernard at restaurant Alcazar after an opening in his gallery in January 2018

Claude Bernard Haim, born on 5 October 1929, was an extraordinary art lover who founded his gallery on 5 rue des Beaux Arts in 1957 and detected talents among the greatest painters. His friendship was instrumental in Sam Szafran’s career, he was the first one to exhibit Bacon in Paris in the 1970’s, and defended Xavier Valls and the charming Jacques Truphemus until his death.  But his first great passion was music and he studied the piano and organ at the conservatory in parallel with attending Ecole du Louvre. He was sitting at the desk of the gallery until very recently and you could at any time drop by and chat with him about Parisian life. He died on November 16, and was buried at the Montparnasse cemetery on the 21 st of November, surrounded by his sister Nadine Haim and his nephews and nieces.

Antonio Segui, “Dr Tulp”, 1979, pastel at the gallery at the moment

Raised on rue de Presbourg in an affluent family, the Haïm, he studied music professionally and in his pretty retreat of La Besnardière, in Villedômer near Tours, he had three organs and as many concert pianos. I once stayed there in the summer after visiting the gardens of Chaumont-sur- Loire with Mitchell Wolfson Jr., his great American friend, and was fascinated by the numerous little houses surrounding a large barn which he had converted into a concert hall. A very small road was the border between his house and the guests’ quarters. One knew to leave him in peace in the afternoon. We would have drinks in his living room surrounded by philodendrons and move on to dinner in the main house where the food was delicious.

Sam Safran, Philodendrons, (detail),

After dinner we moved to a large studio with yet another organ and a piano… He also hosted concerts there during the festival of La Grange de Meslay. Champagne was flowing and some of his guests being concert pianists themselves, we were gratified after dinner with an impromptu organ recital by his close friend Alain Planès. There, he also had a winter garden filled with philodendrons which inspired Sam Szafran to the point that the painter used them in many  of his paintings.

Spanish Ambassadress Victoria de Diego Vallejo and Claude Bernard at the Xavier Valls opening at Institut Cervantès in January 2019

He survived Covid, which he caught in a restaurant on 12 March 2020 (the day President Macron asked people older than 70 to stay home), and his faithful Inès had moved in with him to feed him and make sure he did not loose his strength. The last time I had dinner with him was just before his 93 rd birthday on September 8, a few hours after Queen Elizabeth died, he was surrounded by Pauline Meunier and Monique Levi-Strauss (an almost twin to the Queen), a couple of close collectors, and celebrated the Rentrée. He seemed tired but was as vivacious as ever.

In la Besnardière near Tours, he built a concert hall with an organ in a barn

Claude Bernard will be missed by his fabulous team at the gallery but also by his many friends who met regularly after the openings at the dinner parties which he gave alternatively at Alcazar and at Bistrot de Paris. He belonged to another century where conversation and wit were at the heart of a good party.

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7 Comments on “Claude Bernard, the galerist who played the organ”

  1. Ce fut le prince de Saint Germain de Près ! Je le connus au festival d’Aix en Provence en 1967 et, quarante ans plus tard, il se souvint parfaitement de notre rencontre à un déjeuner chez un collectionneur : “Quel collectionneur était Augustin Terrin ! Et bien , il ne m’a jamais rien acheté …”Il insista pour que je publie mes Carnets d’Opéra et trouva l’éditeur…Je pense que les grandes orgues manquèrent à ses obsèques mais peut-être sa discrétion s’en serait-elle offusquée ?

  2. Im Jahre 1974 habe ich als Orgelbauer der Firma Kleuker die dreimanualige Orgel in der Scheune gebaut. Wir haben lange Zeit dort gewohnt und dieser Aufenthalt und der freundliche, herzliche Kontakt zu Claude Bernard hat mein weiteres Leben stark geprägt. Noch heute trinke ich meinen Wein aus einem Krug, den ich dort von ihm als Gesehenk erhalten habe. Als großartiger Künstler und Mensch, Musiker und Freund bleibt er in mir lebendig. Meine Hochachtung.

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