In Their Shoes with Claire de Quénetain
French born, Brussels based Claire de Quénetain graduated from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London before setting up her own studio. Working across prints, textiles and large scale murals, her expressive mark making and botanical motifs bring a painterly feel to her brand and her unmistakable style is brightening up interiors across Europe.
We chat to her about her favourite garden, Monet's waterlilies and the place she calls home.
Your work is inspired by nature and your latest collections of printed textiles suggest the movement of plants and flowers in a secret garden. Where is your favourite real-life garden?
Le Jardin Plume in Normandy which follows the idea of the gardener Gilles Clement, suggesting that every plant and flower has their right to grow where they want and the gardener adapts his work in relation to their dynamic. It creates beautiful gardens. Also the Painswick Rococo Garden in Gloucestershire, an ornamental garden that I love to visit with beautiful pavilions and statues.
You have such a strong visual style and your work falls in the sphere between art and textile design – when did you start to paint?
Up until I was 10 years old I lived in a house in Normandy surrounded by a beautiful garden and forest, it was a farm and my parents were farming deers. We then moved to an apartment with tiny bedrooms in Paris! It was a big shock and I had to find an escape and it happened to be painting and drawing classes. I found it relaxing and I loved to learn the different techniques. School was not a good time for me so going to the art classes every week was a great joy.
Then I naturally chose to study fine art at the Ecal school of Art in Lausanne in Switzerland, (Lausanne on the Lac Leman with the mountain on the other side creates such a spectacular landscape - it was the main reason why I decided to study there). I developed at the ECAL a style mostly focused on a subject close to my heart, the garden - the lost garden of my childhood and I wanted to recreate my own imaginary one.
I started to paint it when I was studying at the Royal College of Art and specialised in printed textiles in London. Clare Johnston, Sue Timney and Jemma Ooi were my main tutors and they were fantastic. They helped me to trust that I was able to paint. They opened my eyes to many things and above all they were very inspiring women. I don't know what I would have done without them. Since that time I have never stopped being inspired by the subject of nature, and painting it. I'm obsessed with finding the right combinations between the subject; the colours, the lines and the movement. I always have an idea in my head; something that I would like to achieve and it always turns out to be something else - it's quite frustrating at times! And this means I try and try and try to find something that really speaks to me. I feel passion while I am painting; there is an inner dialogue starting, there are tensions and sometimes a visual solution appears. I feel alive in these moments.
So many artists through the ages have painted flowers, from Van Gogh to Hokusai, Warhol to Monet, what is your favourite painting of flowers?
I admire the work of Claude Monet. He was a true observer of nature. He created his garden for his painting, research and observation. Quite often I think of the water lilies; there is so much movement, fluidity and depth in the colours. And the scale is huge - I love it. I admire this concentration. And his house Giverny, is in Normandy.
You grew up in Normandy and Paris, studied in Switzerland and London and now live in Brussels - where do you consider ‘home’?
My heart has always been in Normandy, but it is changing with time as I have now a husband and two daughters. We just bought a flat in Brussels and when we visited for the first time I felt that it will be our home. It was a big joy to find it.
What’s a typical day for you?
I normally work with no break until 3pm (time to pick up my daughter at school), but since I now also have a 18 month old daughter with me at home it’s a bit hectic. I’m working when she is sleeping. I have less time to paint than before, but it has become more intense; I am more concentrated and in a way, I like this rhythm.
How has your business grown over the years and what are your plans and dreams for the future?
When I graduated from the RCA I realised that I wanted to work independently. I wanted to create a story around gardens through painted fabrics, walls etc. At that time I had the opportunity to work with the homeware company Heal’s and it helped me to stick to my decision. And from there I moved on to create my own brand. I did one or two collections per year. I made a lot of mistakes because I didn’t know the field of interiors at all. Over time, I started to figure out where I wanted to go and how to work. In the future, I would like to do more murals. It’s a big joy for me to paint on a large scale and it's a challenge each time.
If we were coming to Brussels for the weekend what would be your top tips for things to do and see?
Have a walk at La Cambre towards Ixelles’ Lakes and finish with the weekend market on Place Flagey.
Go to a fabric shop called Percaline. They have a great selection of furnishing fabrics and they take time to share their passion with you. I love it. There is a very nice atmosphere. Go to the Tenbosch Park it’s a unique place, an oasis!
How do you style your Salt-Waters?
I wear my Salties with my many pairs of jeans. Just like my jeans they’re versatile, timeless and durable!
And finally, if you could walk in someone else’s shoes for a day, whose would they be and why?
A gardener, Piet Oudolf because he sees art in nature. His garden's compositions look beautiful, rich in colour and abundant with species during the whole year, through all the seasons, even during winter when plants are almost dead. I find his approach to gardening very authentic.