Marie-Suzanne-Josèphe Artus

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Entry by Jean-Philippe Van Aelbrouck, 2004

Suzette Artus, whose full name was Marie-Suzanne-Josèphe, was born in Lille on July 17, 1741. Her parents were the musician Pierre-Jérôme Artus Truyart and the actress Marie Bienfait. Suzette began her career at a young age. She was hired as first dancer for the Desgraviers troupe in Metz in 1759 and 1760. She married the bassoonist François-René-Marie Defoye, acting with him in Strasbourg before making her debut as first singer in Brussels in 1766 as Zerbine in Baurans and Pergolesi's La Servante maîtresse. On June 30 that year, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria granted the exclusive right to perform in Brussels to fifteen actors who had formed a troupe for this purpose. Suzette Defoye was one of the fifteen, who were known as the Ordinary Actors to H.R.H. Prince Charles of Lorraine, governor of the Austrian Netherlands. Although the new troupe was popular with the public, it was not a financial success and the members soon fell out. Suzette herself opened the hostilities by renouncing her role as co-director of the theater on June 25, 1768. The other associates opposed this move and obtained an injunction to force her to respect the terms of her engagement. On November 19, 1771, she had her husband interned at the Alexian monastery in Brussels, for "a clear case of madness", where he remained until his death in 1800. She moved in with her lover Nicolas Guilleminot-Dugué, an actor who had arrived in Brussels in 1769 and a member of the troupe since 1771. The following year, the financial situation and the conflicts grew so serious that two new directors were appointed for the theater -the actor Louis Compain and the musician Ignace Vitzthumb. Suzette reached an agreement with the new directors, who granted her an annuity of 300 livres for life. Early in 1773, as the situation at the theater became untenable, she decided to leave Brussels after taking part in a performance of Marmontel and Grétry's opera Zémire et Azor, organized for her benefit on January 11. She wrote to the new directors, "I have all too many reasons to complain of my directors to think of hiding the fact that I am leaving them with great pleasure. I have suffered too much from all kinds of injustices, both for my fellow actors and for myself. I have but one regret which will forever be in my heart: that is leaving the public, which I will always cherish". She agreed to join the troupe of Mme Destouches-Lobreau, the director of the theater in Lyon, and traveled there with Nicolas Guilleminot-Dugué. Unfortunately, Mme Destouches-Lobreau was so shocked at her ugliness that she immediately tore up the contract. Suzette refused to be cowed, requesting permission to sing just once in a comic opera by Duni entitled Le Peintre amoureux, in exchange for the price of her return to Paris. Once in costume and made up for the stage, she succeeded in charming the audience with her singing talent. Mme Destouches-Lobreau was convinced, and gave her a contract for one year.

In 1774, Suzette joined the imperial troupe of Saint Petersburg, which traveled to Moscow the following year to perform at the Russian court. In August 1776, she gave birth to a still-born baby and her health became a matter for public concern. The French troupe left Moscow after it fell out of favor. Nicolas found work in Bordeaux, but Suzette stayed behind in Saint Petersburg where, in 1779, she performed at several concerts of church music for Lent organized by the violinist Louis-Henri Paisible. As the situation of French performers in Russia was growing more untenable, Suzette announced her departure in May 1781, leaving shortly afterwards. In September that year, she performed in Lille on several occasions before joining the troupe of the Ghent theater from 1782 to 1785. In 1785, she moved to the theater in Liège, where Nicolas had been since 1781 and where he was later to be appointed director. She performed a number of leading roles there.

The last mention of Suzette Defoye, née Artus, dates from 1787. She was then directing the theater in Béthune, and the Baron d'Hinge, the Grand Bailiff of Béthune, requested that she be granted the exclusive right to perform in Amiens. It is not known what became of her after this date. Her contemporaries barely mention her, with the sole exception of the travel writer Burney. However, her contribution to the theater in a number of European countries, both as a singer and as director of theater troupes, deserves greater recognition. (traduction de Susan Pickford)


Selected bibliography

- Burney, C. Voyage musical dans l'Europe des Lumières[1771-1773]. Paris, Flammarion, 1992, p.243-244.
- Liebrecht, H. Histoire du théâtre français à Bruxelles. Paris, Champion, 1923, p.231-242.
- Mooser, R.-A. L'Opéra-comique français en Russie au XVIIIe siècle. Genève, Kister, 1954, p.77-79.


- "La pièce de ce soir, mercredi 15 juillet 1772, était Zémire et Azor [...]. L'une des femmes, la Defoix, qui tenait le rôle de Zémire, avait de la facilité et une voix assez étendue, mais son exécution n'en manquait pas moins d'aplomb et de fini" (C. Burney, Voyage musical..., voir supra, choix bibliog., p.242).
- "Jeudi 16 juillet [1772]. J'entendis ce soir une jolie comédie de Boissy, Le Mercure galant, et Le Huron; ce dernier fut très bien joué, quoique piètrement chanté. Cependant, la petite Defoix, qui tenait hier soir le rôle de Zémire, était beaucoup plus à son aise dans celui-ci, car ses airs correspondaient mieux à ses moyens. Elle est sensiblement moins française dans son chant que le reste de la troupe, mais elle ne sait pas la musique et elle est née française, deux obstacles non négligeables à la bonne manière de chanter ". (C. Burney,Voyage musical..., voir supra, choix bibliog., p.243-44).
- (à propos du privilège du théâtre d'Amiens) "actrice de distinction, elle est liée d'amitié intime avec Mme Belcourt, soeur de Madame Belcourt des Français à Paris, qui lui évitera des voyages dans la capitale en se chargeant, lors qu'il lui manquera des acteurs, de lui envoyer ce qu'il se trouvera de mieux dans Paris. Elle a par elle-même les fonds nécessaires tant pour l'établissement que le soutien de sa troupe" (M. d'Hinge, lettre du 19 mars 1787, Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, Fonds ancien FF 1314).

Marie-Suzanne-Josèphe Artus
Spouses François-René-Marie Defoye
Also known as Mademoiselle Artus
Suzette Artus
« Suzette »
De Foix
Birth date 1741
Death 1787
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