Taste Makers: Myriam Bransfield and the Alliance Française




April 03, 2016


Madame de Pompadour, painted in 1759 by François Boucher, is the cover girl for the Alliance Française de Chicago’s 2016 Symposium for the Arts of France.

Madame de Pompadour, painted in 1759 by François Boucher, is the cover girl for the Alliance Française de Chicago’s 2016 Symposium for the Arts of France.

Art, Sex, and Power: this quintessential French combination is a surefire draw for the Alliance Française de Chicago’s upcoming lecture series “The Taste Makers: Queens and Mistresses.” On April 20, May 4, and June 10, this trio of lectures will present the relationship between queens, mistresses, and the men in their lives and their impact on art and politics. Noted art historian Jean Goldman, author Joan DeJean, and Morgan Library Director Colin Bailey will explore these powerful women through paintings, textiles, jewelry, as well as their lavish homes and furnishings.

Catherine de'Medici's bedroom at Chenonceau, photographed by M Gobeil.

Catherine de’Medici’s bedroom at Chenonceau, photographed by M Gobeil.

Who better than the vivacious and charming (to quote a recent dinner partner) Myriam Bransfield to chair the symposium, which this year broadens the theme from les arts décoratifs to include how these fascinating players impacted French art? Guests may choose to attend only the lectures only or become patrons or grand patrons, allowing them to enjoy luncheons with glorious menus planned by George Jewel and profusions of French flowers from Inara Carroll of Green.

“The French have a way of bringing an explosion of beauty into each day, and making everything so much prettier. I am definitely a francophone – I believe you can express yourself so much better in French. I escape from the realities of life when I am in a French class.”

The captivating Myriam Bransfield.

The captivating Myriam Bransfield.

Describing herself as “obsessed by the study of language,” Myriam learned French, in addition to English and Spanish, as a young girl growing up in Havana.

“Before Castro, Cuba was a very refined and lovely place. We had big European lunches that would go on for two hours. In high school, we could opt to study French over our lunch hour, which I did with Madame Yolande. My family had always visited Miami Beach twice a year. I was 21 when things started to go very badly in Havana, around the time of the Bay of Pigs. I knew I had to get out. You could only buy a round-trip ticket. I told the authorities that I was going to be the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding in Miami, and I flew out with a friend with whatever jewelry and a little money I had. I remember that my friend said I must stop crying on the flight or otherwise they would know something was wrong and search us.

“Through my godmother I got a job teaching in a parochial school in Miami and discovered, to my joy, that Madame Yolande lived just down the street. Neither of us had much money and she charged me only $5 for my French lessons.”

Myriam had attended the University of Havana and the nuns at the school where she taught encouraged her to study at Barry College.

“I will forever be grateful that the customs official in Miami gave me a six-months visa, and in those days you would receive a social security number which allowed me to work. Much later I became a United States citizen. I have never gone back to Cuba.”

Myriam met her late husband John Bransfield on a blind date in Miami in 1969, and she continued to express her love of language as she raised daughter Merche and son Jack in Chicago.

“I spoke only Spanish to them when they were growing up, and to this day we write to one another only in Spanish. Merche continues this tradition with her daughter Desi and son Henry.”

She returns each winter to Bal Harbour, where she swims almost daily and loves using all three of her languages. A long-time member of the Women’s Board of the Alliance Française de Chicago, Myriam works frequently with a French tutor today to keep up her language.

Jack McCord, Executive Director of the Alliance Française de Chicago, credits her with a great deal of the organization’s success.

“Myriam is a prime example of why the Alliance Française de Chicago is what it is today: the center of French language and French speaking cultures in Chicago. Myriam is dedicated, enthusiastic, generous, and committed. She and her late husband John were long-standing supporters of the Alliance, and in particular our galas, and Myriam has continued the tradition. It’s what has made the Alliance the second largest in the US network of well over 100 Alliances, and with the richest programming.”

Mary Blust and Lauren Ziol serve as Symposium Committee co-chairs, and Solange Brown, Jean Goldman, Gloria Groom, Janis Notz, Betsey Pinkert, and Isabelle de la Vauvre serve on the committee. McCord reflects on the Symposium and his team:

“Our Symposium has evolved over the years from the French decorative arts to the broader canvas of the arts of France. We are able to draw fantastic speakers from prestigious institutions. All of us are always on the look out for someone good! We have a terrific and creative staff in the persons of Conery Hoffman, Aimee Laberge, and Catherine Guillemin Lynch. It is a dream team with Myriam and her committee at the head. I would be remiss in not mentioning our friend Carole Crosby, now President of the Alliance of Sarasota, who co-chaired the series so successfully with Myriam for several years, terrific to work with both.”

Two fine examples of Sèvres porcelain, painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin, thought to have been commissioned by Madame de Pompadour.

Two fine examples of Sèvres porcelain, painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin, thought to have been commissioned by Madame de Pompadour.

One of Chicago’s most compelling speakers, Jean Goldman, begins the series on the 20th of April with “Queens and French Mistresses: The Fatal Force of Femme Fatales.” Focusing on the Medici queens who came to France with their nostalgia for all things Italian, Jean will take guests from chateau to chateau, looking at their vast collections of paintings, enamels, decorative arts, and jewelry.  She will show how Catherine and Marie de Medici left both political and cultural changes in their extravagant wake.

 “The Women Who Made French style: The Marquises de Montespan and Pompadour” will be presented on May 4th by the University of Pennsylvania’s Trustee Professor, Joan DeJean, author of ten books on France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She will tell how these mistresses of Louis XIV and Louis XV redefined furniture, fashion, and textiles.

Colin Baily, Director of the Morgan Library and specialist in eighteenth century French art, speaks on “Fragonard, Ledoux, and Madame du Barry: A Dangerous Liaison.” The intrigue behind “The Progress of Love,” painted by Fragonard for Madame du Barry’s pleasure palace ends the series on the 10th of June.

For further information, visit the Alliance’s website: www.af-chicago.org or call 312-337-1070.