André L’Huillier is a personality who will have profoundly marked Geneva life throughout the XXe century. Owner and boss of the eponymous company, like his father and grandfather before him, he was particularly active in the economic and cultural life of Geneva. Born on 13 March 1937, from a family proud of its Geneva roots, André L’Huillier built up an impressive art collection over the years. Today, his wife and two daughters are keen to showcase this heritage.
Founded in 1825, the Régie André L’Huillier is the oldest Régie in Switzerland. Together with Régie Opériol, they gave a great reputation to Comptoir Genevois Immobilier, which has since become Comptoir Immobilier, in which André L’Huillier and Paul Epiney, its founder and current Chairman and Managing Director, have had many years of collaboration.
It is a great pleasure for me to be part of this project.
Interview with his wife Renée and his two daughters Laurence and Stéphanie, who allow us to relive the passions and commitment of André L’Huillier, who passed away too soon.
This passion came from his parents, who were already collectors. It was in his blood: he could have collected matchboxes. He collected all sorts of things: paintings by young painters, African art, works depicting the Matterhorn (which his wife had climbed), cigar ribbons, scales, barter coins… André L’Huillier began developing his own collection of contemporary art at the age of 20, out of pure passion. He had a keen eye for the quality of an artist before anyone else and had a special relationship with many artists. Although he died in April 1998, 21 years ago, his personality is greatly missed in Geneva, and many people would have liked to have met him. His fame, moreover, went far beyond the borders of the canton.
The creation of MAMCO was decided within the walls of the family home. As early as the 1970s, a group of enthusiasts were striving to find a real exhibition space for contemporary art, which until then had been reduced to a few hangings at the Museum of Art and History. André L’Huillier and a few friends thought of the SIP, a derelict factory in the middle of the city. After twenty years of effort, the MAMCO opened its first exhibition there in 1994.
With his statue erected on the Rond-Point de Plainpalais in the early 1980s, André L’Huillier was moreover very proud to be featured in his hometown during his lifetime. He is part of a group of four figures created on this square by the artist Gérald Ducimetière. In order to carry out this operation, André L’Huillier’s face had to be entirely moulded in plaster. They even took his blood pressure every five minutes to make sure he was okay. Sitting on a bench, he found he had the best position.
Some years later, the cigar on his statue was vandalized. This act occurred shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. André L’Huillier was an avid Havana smoker, so he himself interpreted this as a symbol. Today, his statue is often photographed and some intimates pay tribute by stopping by.
It is housed both on the premises of Comptoir Immobilier and in the family home. Sometimes museums ask to borrow some of the works for exhibitions, in Geneva or abroad.
The collection is also available for the public.
André L’Huillier added many works to his collection each year. In the 1980s, he decided to interrupt his acquisitions for a year, which he called a “sabbatical”: he never received as many paintings from his favourite artists as he did that year! He received artists, gallerists, and collectors at his home during evenings that went on well into the night.
His two daughters, who were immersed in the contemporary art world, enjoy visiting museums and galleries on their trips abroad: sensitivity to art is part of their heritage.
André L’Huillier created Ruine in 1987. The concept of this gallery is to give artists from all walks of life the chance to exhibit their work in order to make themselves known. They manage their own exhibition for a period of one week. Ruine still continues its activities today. In fact, her daughter Laurence had her first photo exhibition there this year.
They are still in business today.
“He was a very sensitive person, a wise man, a good and generous man. He respected opposing views. He was very emotional and fundamentally fair. André L’Huillier could not stand injustice and bad behaviour. He had a memory like an elephant, he remembered everything. He was a bon vivant, an epicurean. He was also a much appreciated boss. He had an exceptional sense of humour. He left early but lived his life to the fullest and shared it with everyone around him. “
“We grew up in an atypical environment. He took us everywhere, to all the artistic circles (openings, museums, exhibitions, etc…). We were always the only children there. He talked a lot about us. André L’Huillier even said: “I always buy my artworks in pairs, because I have twins”. He was very proud of us, he put us on a pedestal, adored us. He preserved and protected us, until his last days. At 30, we were still his little girls. That’s perhaps characteristic of this generation. Today, we listen more to young people and their ideas. Our mother, who was Swiss-German and from Ticino, was more organized, more down-to-earth. They complemented each other wonderfully. “
“Our mother was very sporty, she was into mountaineering, skiing and golf. Our father, not at all, but he belonged to many clubs. He was a very good sailor, he grew up on the Lake. He was also patron of the Val d’Hérens mountain guides and even organised a cross-country skiing cup in his name in Crans-Montana. So we did cross-country skiing once a year. He loved the Valais. When it came to real estate, however, he wanted to stay local, in Geneva. “
Located at 5 rue Petitot, Régie André L’Huillier moved to Rive in 1993 to join Comptoir Genevois Immobilier. Before the move, his daughters liked to pop into their father’s offices unannounced to spend some time with him. As a joke, André L’Huillier used to say that he had a chauffeur waiting for him. But his driver was actually the tram 12… A characteristic trait of his humor.