Cocteau, Picasso, and a Tale of two Breads

fougasse by Cocteau
A fougasse on the wall of Santo Sospir

When I recently toured Santo Sospir, the villa decorated by Cocteau, the guide pointed to a fougasse (a local bread) painted on the wall and said it was a reference by Cocteau to the hands painted by his friend, Picasso.  I didn’t really understand the link because the bread looked nothing like a hand to me.

Turning a Fougasse into a Hand

Then I saw a short film that Cocteau made about Santo Sospir. In it, he took a fougasse and tore it up into the general form of a hand and called it Picasso’s hand. On one of the walls of Santo Sospir, we find a painting of a goat holding one of these breads torn in the same manner.

But I think Cocteau got his breads confused. My theory is that he must have heard the story about a local bread being associated with the hands of Picasso and mistakenly assumed it was the fougasse.

collage fougasse
In the top 2 images from a short film by Cocteau, he shows us how to make a fougasse look like a hand. Bottom image from a painting by Cocteau showing a goat holding a fougasse “hand”.

Fougasse – Not a Hand but Delicious Anyway

Fougasse, is still widely available in the area. It’s a thin bread with cut-outs and can be found in various shapes, none of them resembling a hand unless you creatively tear it up like Cocteau did.

In days gone by, it was used by the bakers to test the heat of their ovens before they baked their “real bread”. Then it would be eaten as a snack by the bakers or given out to customers in addition to a bread purchase. Today it has earned its own place on the bakery shelf. You can find plain fougasse, or it can be flavoured with olives, tomatoes, cheese, etc. There is also a sweet version, known as the fougassette which is flavoured with fruit.

“Hand of Nice” Becomes a “Picasso”

So if the bread referred to as the “Picasso” or “Picasso’s hand” isn’t a fougasse, what is it? It’s another speciality bread from the Nice area which is made into the form of a four-fingered hand. It’s called the “main de Nice” or the “hand of Nice”.

Picasso bread hands
Picasso in 1952 with “hands of Nice” bread by Robert Doisneau

This bread became associated with Picasso one morning in 1952 when the photographer, Robert Doisneau, arrived at Picasso’s home for a photo shoot. The artist was at his kitchen table just about to have breakfast and he invited Doisneau to join him. Picasso pointed to the bread on the table which was “the hand of Nice” and said the baker had called them “Picassos” because they had only four fingers. Doisneau saw the opportunity for a fun photo and placed two of them on the edge of the table so they looked like they were Picasso’s hands and took the photo.

The “hand of Nice”, or the “Picasso” if you prefer, is not easy to find today in Nice. I found only one boulangerie that still makes it: Boulangerie du Palais, 21 rue du Marché in the Old Town. According to them, the four fingers represent the four main valleys of the Alps Maritimes area: the Roya, the Tinée, the Vésubie, and the Var.

Boulangerie du Palais, Nice France

Their version is a little bit different than the one in the Picasso photo but they are still fun to pose with. Then after the photo session, they go nicely with a bit of cheese and a glass of wine.

Margo bread hands
Margo with bread hands

Photo credits:

Images 1,4,6,7 – by me —– Image 2,3 – Stills from a video by Cocteau. The quality is bad and there are Spanish subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVDI7SBv9RI —– Image 5 by Robert Doisneau

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Margo Lestz

Margo has authored four books about France. She has a BA in Liberal Studies with International Emphasis and enjoys travel, languages, history, writing, and experiencing other cultures.

10 comments

  1. What a brilliant story Margo, I didn’t know any of this. I love fougasse but didn’t know it had any associations false or otherwise with Picasso or Cocteau and I’ve never come across the hands of Nice. Now I’m on a mission to find them, next time I’m in town I’ll head to the boulangerie du palais. I love your photo, it’s such fun. Thanks for linking up again.

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