If Jongkind found his way to the Dauphiné in August 1973, it was thanks entirely to the lady he called his "good angel". He had met Joséphine Fesser in May 1860, thirteen years previously, at Pierre-Firmin Martin's art gallery in Paris. He was now invited to accompany her on a visit to her son Jules, serving as chef at the château of Pupetières, near Châbons in our Bourbre valley.
They had a lot in common, for Joséphine was also Dutch, a native of Namur in the United Provinces, in what was then the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They were also both of the same age, being born in 1819. Joséphine had been abandoned by her parents and looked after in a hospice. Although known as Marie Borrhée she was later to take the name of Joséphine. By the time she was twenty she had arrived in Paris, where she learnt to draw, and later to teach, in a home for young girls.
It was perhaps this difficult childhood that helped her understand better than any other the temperament of her kindred spirit Jongkind, something of an orphan himself. Jongkind had in fact written to Joséphine some weeks after their first meeting: "When I saw you arrive, it was as if my mother and father were coming to fetch me!"
Joséphine's husband Alexandre was making a comfortable living at that time as a chef to rich landholders. In 1863 he was at the château of Chautay, near Nevers, central France. Joséphine invited Jongkind to accompany her and her son Jules to visit him in the summer. Jongkind was delighted by the landscape and rustic scenes of the Nevers countryside.
Le château de Pupetières, proche de Virieu
Alexandre was soon to move on, however, to the Marquis of Virieu at Pupetières near Châbons and Virieu. It was there that his son Jules came to join him a little later, after his spell in the army for the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Alexandre retired in 1871 and returned to Nevers. Jongkind and Joséphine would continue to visit him on occasion, whilst Jules continued in service at Pupetières.
Jules et Pauline Fesser
It was there that he met Pauline Walestain, daughter of the château steward. They married in February 1872 and were visited by Joséphine and Jongkind in 1873. Again, as in Nevers, Jongkind fell in love with the rural scenes of the Dauphiné and he was to return almost every summer thereafter.
Jules, his wife and children, were all lodged in a small house overlooking Pupetières château that can still be seen to this day. They did their best to make room for Joséphine and Jongkind.
La maison des Fesser à Mallein,
devenue aujourd’hui la « maison Jongkind »
Aquarelle par Jongkind de la maison
But the family was growing and the house too small; Jules was also developing a keen interest in a new technique of the period - photography.
La Villa Beau-Séjour
Photographie de Jules Fesser
In 1878 he decided to buy a property in the nearby town of La Côte-Saint-André, in the hope of finding custom for his services as a photographer; he also hoped to be able to rent land and supplement his income through farming.
It was thus that he came to acquire the Villa Beauséjour. He moved in not only with his family, but with Joséphine and Jongkind too. He went as far as to organise space for a studio for Jongkind.
Joséphine and Jongkind spent more and more time in the Dauphiné, for there seems to have been growing affection between Jongkind and the Fessers. The artist helped out with the children and their schooling and returned Jules' generosity with kindness and presents for the children. He had left his material worries behind him, and would spend his time wandering the countryside with his easel, painting the scenes we know today and passing the time of day with the locals. Whilst the children would call him Father Jonquil, Jongkind called himself "a real Dauphiné peasant".
As his health declined he found the journeys to Paris more and more difficult and finally settled permanently in La Côte-Saint-André. On 27 January 1891 Jules Fesser had to arrange for Jongkind to be taken into the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Egrève, near Grenoble. Jongkind died in the hospital on 9 February and was buried two days later at La Côte-Saint-André. Only a few months later, on 23 November, Joséphine was to join him.