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James Joyce to August Suter – from writer to sculptor


It was at August Suter’s invitation that Frank Budgen moved to Switzerland shortly before the beginning of WW I. They had met at the famous Académie Julian in Paris, and Budgen worked as a model for the promising young Swiss artist who had exclusively turned to sculpture at the advice of the sculptor Rodo (Auguste de Niederhäusern).

     Joyce’s acquaintance with Budgen in wartime Zurich brought him into contact with a close circle of friends that included August Suter, his brother Paul, and the Basel poet Siegfried Lang. Suter’s contacts in Ascona also provided Joyce with access to the Mistress of the Isola de Brisago, Antoinette de Saint Léger, whose Circean touch and stash of erotic literature made a contribution to the Circe episode.1

August Suter in 1937 working on a bust of Professor Doerr, Basel.
The bust in profile shows painter Numa Donzé (1885-1952)
In the background there is an oil portrait of Frank Budgen.
 Courtesy: the grandsons of August Suter

     After the war Suter went back to his Paris studio, and when Joyce settled in the French capital to finish Ulysses in the summer of 1921 acquaintance was renewed. Joyce eventually sat for a bust, whose unburnt clay model, unfortunately, did not survive WW II. Both, Suter and Joyce, had to leave France again for Zurich in 1939, this time to flee from the Nazi regime. In January 1941 August Suter was the only member of the old Zurich circle of friends who was able to attend Joyce’s funeral.

     Fifty years after the death of the sculptor in November 1965, his grandsons have generously provided access to the surviving documents James Joyce sent to August Suter and which were preserved by his only surviving son, Claude.

 Fragment of Joyce's letter of 4 June 1924

  The documents span the period between February 1922 and an unknown date after November 1939 and are listed here in a sometimes tentative chronological order.

Joyce quotes from an old song first published in the
Universal Songster of

Table: Joyce's letters from the estate of August Suter







23 February 1922

Francis Budgen chez M Suter rue d'Arcenil 2 Poste Gentilly

carte postale


Joyce complains he is still waiting for presentation copies of Ulysses, in spite of letters and telegrams to Darantière. This is the reason why Budgen still has not received his copy. The whole affair makes him very nervous.

This postcard has either not reached Budgen at all or was left with the Suters for some reason.

19 December 1923

Mr and Mrs Suter



Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

29 April 1924

August Suter

letter on perforated paper from a small-sized notepad.


Joyce will deliver the pictures next Thursday if convenient. If Suter is not at home he can telephone and they could arrange a different date. Kind regards from Mr and Mrs Joyce to Mr and Mrs  Suter.

Nothing is known about the pictures in question.

Joyce's way of addressing Suter is (unintentionally?) more formal in German than in French.

4 June 1924

Victoria Palace Hotel

August Suter



Joyce asks Suter to meet the Irish painter Tuohy, who did a portrait of his father that is much talked about. Tuohy would very much like to meet him. Joyce doubts that they will be able to communicate because the painter speaks little French and no German. Perhaps Madame Suter might help. Joyce expects a visit from Müller and is almost out of his mind because of this impossible situation.

A handshake from JJ

Joyce lived at the Victoria Palace Hotel till 7 July 1924

Joyce commissioned Patrick Tuohy to paint his father in 1923 and was to sit for his own portrait from 1924.

Helene Moser, Suter's wife,  was a noted soprano and obviously able to speak English.

Dr Walter Müller, a Zurich litterateur, whose bust Suter made in 1928, stayed in Paris at the time. The Joyce Collection at the University of Buffalo is in possession of two letters from Walter Müller to Sylvia Beach of September and December 1924 which suggest that he was working on a German translation of A Portrait of the Artist and trying to find a publisher.


(August Suter)

message on note paper


Mr James Joyce is very sorry and delighted that he missed Suter at 4 o’clock.

The paradoxical wording might be explained by the fact that Joyce would in all probability have been sitting for his bust for Suter as a reference with an almost identical wording (p. 196) in the scuptor's reminiscences suggests.


(August Suter)

message on card


Joyce wants to know when Suter will leave and if they might meet the next evening.

Suter frequently travelled between Paris and  Switzerland.

After 10 December, 1925

2, Square Robiac

August Suter

letter card (front and back)


Joyce asks Suter if his wife, provided she is in Paris, would have tea with them on Wednesday, as Joyce’s wife wants to talk to her – not on the subject of servants. He hopes Suter is well, and adds that he has undergone a seventh operation, which was rather bad this time.

Joyce had eye-operations on 8 and 10 December.

Suter mentions in his reminiscences2 that his wife, a professional singer, gave singing lessons to Joyce’s daughter Lucia.



Two postcard-sized leaves from a French desk calendar for 17 March and 3 November 1939, inscribed in green ink


“Saint Patrick was a gentleman and came of decent people. / He built a church in Ireland and put on it a steeple”

Popular song, not by James Joyce

 * * *

“Please to remember the Third of November / Holy Hubert, huntsman And hound”

Popular Rhyme (with variation), also not by James Joyce


Both texts are quoted in Finnegans Wake.

14.13 Primas was a santryman and drilled all decent people.

376.5  Hubert was a Hunter

It is not clear how and why these two quotations came into Suter’s possession. 

Harald Beck

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1 Document by August Suter for Dr. Dutli to be passed on to Richard Ellmann, in possession of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation.
2 August Suter, “Some Reminiscences of James Joyce” in: James Joyce Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1970), pp. 191-8. Suter's German text was translated into English and annotated by Fritz Senn. The German original is in the Zurich James Joyce Foundation.