Marc A Béra (1914-1990)

Introduction

On 30th June 1948, M Marc A. Béra of the Institut Français d’Ecosse, 13 Randolph Crescent Edinburgh presented Kelvingrove Gallery with an oil painting named Apres la Guerre painted by Lucien Simon[1]. The name of the painting has since been translated into English as After the War and it is now known by this name in The Oil Paintings in Public Ownership series of catalogues and also in ART UK©.

The painting is shown below in Fig.1.

After the War painted by Lucien Simon (1861-1945)

Simon, Lucien, 1861-1945; After the War
Fig. 1 Simon, Lucien; After the War; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. http://www.artuk.org/artworks/after-the-war-86073

The office of Institut Français d’Ecosse [2] in Edinburgh was contacted and I learned that our donor Marc A. Béra had been its First Director in 1946. A further search on the Internet revealed an article in the Scotsman of 22nd June 2002 which gave the address of the French Institute in Edinburgh. [3] An extract from that article is printed below:

HEROES of the ‘French resistance are to reunite in Edinburgh tomorrow to mark the anniversary of a safe house opened by their country’s most famous Second World War general, Charles de Gaulle. The building in Regent Terrace, now home to the French Consul General, was opened by General de Gaulle in 1942 as a place for members of the Free French movement to recuperate between missions. After the war, the French government declared that the house was to be the permanent residence of its representative in Scotland. During the conflict, the building was particularly popular with members of the French naval forces, and tomorrow senior members of the French Admiralty will join resistance heroes at a special anniversary celebration organised by the Consul General of France for Scotland, Michel Roche.

There has always been a strong link between France and Scotland. War time was very difficult and it was vital at that time to stress the importance of historical links, because the Free French had to impose their existence on the world’s attention. We had long-term links with the Scots, but it is easy to forget about such connections when things are going well. But it is in difficult times of war that the strength of these connections is really tested.
said Mr Roche.

Marc André Béra (1914-1990)

Marc A Béra was born in Paris in 1914 and studied and graduated from the prestigious l’Ecole normale supérieure in Paris in 1935. He became the first Director of the Institut Français d’Ecosse in Edinburgh [4] when it opened in November 1946. He married the celebrated pianist Nadia Tagrine (1917-2003), whom he had met when she was touring in Scotland in 1947. They had two children. Their son, Michel Béra had become a mathematician and their daughter, Nathalie Béra-Tagrine, a pianist, who was as equally celebrated as her mother and often performed with her.

He stayed in Edinburgh until 1952. From 1953 to 1957, he was appointed Director of the Centre Culturel de Royaumont which was an Abbey in France built in the thirteenth century. It was partly destroyed during the French Revolution and had gone through several transformations. During the First World War, the family who owned the site made it available to the Scottish Women’s Hospital, which cared for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers between 1915 and 1919. Later, in the 1950s, it became a cultural centre.

Under our donor’s directorship, Royaumont established music, literature and philosophy firmly at the heart of the Abbey. This was exactly as Henry Goüin, who was the owner of the Royaumont estate had wished as he once remarked ‘a meeting place where attention is focused entirely on the mind and the intellect’. [5]

Our donor was an extraordinary man of his time. He made a colossal number of contributions during his life and most of them related to British scientists, authors and philosophers. In 1990 Marc A Béra was listed as Maître de Conférences at the l’Ecole polytechnique and l’Ecole des Sciences politiques de Paris – an important position in these two very prestigious institutions.

It is important to mention here that, apart from the contributions he made in the fields of literature, music, general art and science while he was living in France and Scotland, he also became a specialist in the works of two very important British scientists of the twentieth century.  They were Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and James Gerald Crowther (1899–1983). Alfred North Whitehead was a British mathematician and a philosopher known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science. [6] His most notable work in these fields is the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–13), which he wrote with his former student Bertrand Russell.

On the other hand, J.G. Crowther was Britain’s very first official science correspondent. [7] During World War II, as Director of Science for the British Council, he furthered international links between scientists, which he thought could be a model for peace and cooperation between nations.

Royaumont Abbey

As mentioned earlier Royaumont Abbey played an important part in the life of our donor Marc A Bera. Therefore, it is appropriate to give some more information about it. Scotland has a strong connection with the Royaumont Abbey [8] which was built between the years 1228-1235 for the Cistercian order of monks, which was dissolved during the French Revolution in 1789. From 1914-1918 the Abbey was turned into a hospital. The Abbey was owned by the Goüin family from 1905 and when the war started, they made the site available to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH).  The SWH was founded by Dr Elsie Maud Inglis [9] (1864-1917) who was a remarkable person in her own right [10]. She was born in India to British parents and was educated privately. She was then enrolled in Dr Sophia Jex-Blake’s newly opened Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and completed her training under Sir William Macewen at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. She qualified as a licentiate of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1892 – a remarkable achievement for women in those times.

A little anecdote relating to Dr Inglis’s life is as follows. During World War I, Dr Elsie Maud Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer them a ready-made Medical Unit staffed by qualified women. However, the War Office told her ‘go home and sit still’ [11]. It was, instead, the French government that took up her offer and the first hospital was based at the Abbey of Royaumont which worked under the direction of the French Red Cross.

In 1918, the Helensburgh born Scottish artist Norah Neilson Gray [12], went to Royaumont and served as a voluntary aid detachment nurse at one of the ten hospitals run by the SWH. She was also doing some paintings in her spare time. It should be mentioned here that she was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to record the staff and the patients at the hospital in her paintings for their collection.

 

Gray, Norah Neilson, 1882-1931; A Belgian Refugee
Fig. 2  Gray, Norah Neilson; A Belgian Refugee; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-belgian-refugee-84289

Norah Neilson Gray, who was also one of the painters known as the Glasgow Girls, [5] painted very interesting works during the war. As early as 1916, she had painted a sensitive portrait of a Belgian Refugee (see Fig 2. Above) who had come to live in Glasgow when his country was invaded by the Germans. The painting of the Refugee shown above won the Bronze Medal in Paris 1921. Another one of the paintings she made Hôpital Auxillaire d’Armee 301-_Abbaye de Royaumont is often displayed in the Helensburgh library and it is depicted below in Fig3.

Gray, Norah Neilson, 1882-1931; Hopital Auxiliaire d'Armee 301 - Abbaye de Royaumont
Fig.3  Gray, Norah Neilson; Hopital Auxiliaire d’Armee 301 – Abbaye de Royaumont; Argyll and Bute Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hopital-auxiliaire-darmee-301-abbaye-de-royaumont-163952

The other painting that Nora Neilson Gray made in Royaumont is called The Scottish Women’s Hospital and it is in the Imperial War Museum [14].

Conclusions

Our donor, Marc André Béra was a great specialist of Britain (he was agrégé d’anglais).[15] He was a shining example of a French intellectual and was a very competent person in many areas of literature, science and art to mention just three areas of human endeavour. He had made translations from the English Language to French of many plays by Shakespeare as well as works of many scientific articles and books. He also translated works of other scientists (i.e. by J. G. Crowther) and in addition to these, he wrote many books about various subjects himself.

A list of most widely held works by Marc André Béra is given in Reference [16] where his contributions at various dates in his life are listed.

Marc André Béra and his wife Nadia remained married for nearly 40 years until Marc André Béra died on 31st March 1990.

Acknowledgements

I should like to thank my colleague Caroline Steel and her husband James Steel for putting me in touch with their friend Prof. John Renwick of Edinburgh University to whom I am indebted for his invaluable help.

References

[1] Record of donor’s gift to Kelvingrove Gallery.

[2] Institut Français d’Ecosse 13 Randolph Crescent Edinburgh. (Please note the new address of Institut Français d’Ecosse is West Parliament Square, Edinburgh, EH1 1RF.

[3] https://www.scotsman.com/news/french-salute-to-city-safe-house-1-844615

[4] Private correspondence with Senior Honorary Professorial Fellow Prof. John Renwick,  MA (Oxon), MA (Cantab), PhD (Glasgow), DLitt (Glasgow) FRHistS, FRSE, University of Edinburgh.

[5] Royaumont estate https://www.royaumont.com/en

[6] Alfred North Whitehead https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whitehead/

[7] JG Crowther https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/d56f811d-2417-38ea-9486-f230c94f4653

[8] Op.cit. Royaumont estate

[9] Maud Inglis https://www.ed.ac.uk/about/people/plaques/inglis

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Noble, Stuart (Ed.) 200 years of Helensburgh. Argyll Publishing,  pp.166-67

[13] BurkHauser, Jude (Ed.) Glasgow  Girls. Cannongate, 1990

[14] Op.cit. “200 Years of Helensburgh”

[15] Op.cit. Private correspondence.

[16] WorldCat Identities http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-no00104229/.

 

 

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