All Photos and Illustrations by Céline Chollet
**This article is a direct feature from the September/October 2023 My French Country Home Magazine. To see more articles like this featuring talented French artists and artisans, be sure to subscribe to the magazine!**
Céline Chollet’s passion for illustration dates back to her childhood in eastern France, where she grew up surrounded by idyllic landscapes dotted with picturesque farms and cottages. Today, she is sought after as a painter of bespoke portraits of private homes and gardens.
Céline remembers a painting she made as a schoolgirl of her family’s house in Lorraine, near the French border with Germany. It was one of her earliest attempts at depicting a building, and she remembers how important it was to get it just right: “At the beginning, I always sketched out the outline of the house before filling in the details – the shape and contours of the windows and doors, the texture of the bricks and the roof tiles,” she says. “Next, I added bits of the garden and the surrounding vegetation.” She became so engrossed that she hardly noticed the hours pass. The end result, she recalls, filled her with pride. “I still have it,” she says of the portrait.
Growing up in an exceptionally creative family – both of her parents studied fine arts – she says she can’t remember a time when everyone wasn’t absorbed in one artistic endeavor or another. “I used to hop on my bicycle and take my paints with me wherever I went,” she reminisces. Céline was especially inclined to landscapes and houses, whereas, “For my sister, it was animals. For my brother, birds.”
All three siblings were encouraged to develop their creative gifts – especially by their mother, a prolific children’s book illustrator whose series “Le Petit Ours Brun” (The Little Brown Bear) remains a French classic. Céline went on to study decorative arts, where she further honed her skills in architectural rendering. Though she has no formal training in technical drawing, she says, “we had a professor who liked to take us out to make sketches of buildings around town,” giving special attention to textures, colors and light. While she started with pencil and ink, she slowly gravitated toward watercolor as her preferred medium. “I like its transparency, the fluidity of the pigments, and the speed of the touch,” she says.
After several years as an illustrator for a children’s magazine, Céline eventually returned to her first love. She sent a dossier of images – majestic slate castles, abbeys nestled in lush valleys, quaint half-timbered houses – to a publisher specialized in illustrated books about France’s various regions. She ended up producing several volumes, including one focused on the Aine, in Picardy, as well as the Haute-Marne and the Yonne, in northeastern France, and Les Deux-Sèvres in the western Poitou-Charentes region.
“I’m passionate about old architecture – the harmony of proportions, the beauty of materials with the patina of time,” Céline says. “My brush becomes excited and vibrates under the emotion of a reflection on a roof or the color of a wall.”
Céline’s career as a house portraitist took off about a decade ago, after she created a blog to showcase her work. “I didn’t really seek it out,” she says. “People just found me online or were referred by word of mouth.” She has since worked with property owners from all over, including Italy, the Netherlands and the United States.
While she frequently creates her portraits based on photographs provided by her clients, Céline says she prefers to visit the houses in person. “I like it when I can take some of my own photos, because I like to frame the compositions myself,” she says. “If I don’t know the region, I like to do a bit of exploring to get familiar with the area and the surrounding vegetation.”
While most of Céline’s commissions come from the owners directly, sometimes they are intended as gifts or keepsakes. “Sometimes people ask me to paint a house they have recently sold, where they are a bit sad to say goodbye. Or they want to give something to their children,” she says. They make thoughtful housewarming gifts, as well, or mementos for a child moving away from home or the birth of a baby. “It’s far more personal than a photo – it’s more charming, more vivant(alive).”
Céline says she always dates her portraits and will happily include a hand-written dedication or other text upon request.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org