November 29, 2013 6:49 pm

The British sculptor who carved out a niche in Geneva

Eleanor Cardozo’s move to Switzerland has helped to widen the appeal of her work
Eleanor Cardozo at work in her Geneva studio

Eleanor Cardozo at work in her Geneva studio

Sculptor Eleanor Cardozo could easily have chosen the more traditional path of the wife of a London banker with a comfortable house in Fulham, three children at a local prep school and weekends in the Dorset countryside. But Cardozo, 48, wanted to make Switzerland, rather than Britain, her home. “We could have just stayed put,” she says. “But we decided that Switzerland had mountains, lakes and no crime. Whereas in London, I just seemed to be spending hours on the road in traffic [on the way to] Dorset.”

Fifteen years after making the move, Cardozo’s decision has helped to widen the appeal of her sculpture. Today, galleries and hotels all over Europe exhibit her work. Yet, importantly, she is still recognised as a British artist when it counts – such as during the London 2012 Olympic Games, when her bronze sculpture of a gymnast was placed outside Westminster Abbey.

Setting up in Switzerland with three young children was hard work, however. “The usual expat trappings that a bank lays on [such as] a car, home and schools weren’t there,” she says. “Bank Sarasin [for whom her husband, Rupert Fryer, 53, is a director] is from Basel, so we were treated very much as locals and left to our own devices to settle in. I was surprised to find that the Swiss Germans didn’t really speak English.”

Family life in Switzerland proved to be a success. “In London we were terribly social,” she says. “But here it was just us as a family, so we took lessons to get our motorboat licence, took the children skiing in Klosters, Zermatt and Davos – and it was all rather peaceful really.”

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Cardozo’s decision to put down roots in Switzerland is in contrast with her peripatetic childhood. The daughter of a military attaché, she was the eldest girl of 10 children. “We all fought like crazy, but we were a chaotic, happy family,” she says. Postings abroad took the family to Malaysia, Malawi, Ghana, Cyprus, Germany and Gibraltar during her early childhood and school years. She attended St Mary’s School in Shaftesbury with five of her sisters.

“All our holidays were spent without a television, making and doing things – sewing, painting, dress designing or playing music,” says Cardozo. Art and music also played a big part in the household, with her mother teaching violin and piano to all the children from the age of four. “I remember arriving in Malawi airport with my brothers and sisters, each of us carrying a violin case, until customs officials stopped us, suspicious we were carrying guns.”

Her own three children – Cosima, 22, Danny, 21, and Henry, 20 – began their education in Switzerland, before attending British boarding schools. “I wanted them to feel some Englishness,” says Cardozo. “I was nervous of them becoming too ‘Euro’. This place can be too small and too rich – with talk about the next Prada handbag or Daddy’s new car, versus piano, drama [lessons] and team spirit.”

When Cardozo was the age her children are now she completed her studies at City and Guilds of London Art School, and then spent a year in Florence, at the Studio Cecil-Graves.

After renting for five years in the suburb of Cologny, on Lake Geneva, the family sold their five-bedroom house in Fulham in 2002, took the plunge and bought a property in Geneva. Cardozo, however, didn’t want to live in Cologny. “I wanted something flatter, with more space,” she says, “and without halos of midges in the summer”.

Cardozo and her husband found a three-bedroom Spanish-style hacienda, built in the 1970s and owned by Peruvians, in another smart suburb of Geneva – Vandœuvres. The layout is unusual. There is a single-storey above ground with a courtyard at the front and a terrace surrounding the pool at the back, while three of the seven bedrooms are downstairs in the former cellar. “It took seven months of building work to carve out the [legally required] nuclear bunker and make the rooms,” says Cardozo. “Coming from London, we were used to making the most of underground space.” The couple bought just under four acres, and used the footprint of the house to obviate strict planning laws and create 6,000 sq ft of comfortable family home.

On the other side of the courtyard is Cardozo’s studio, a modest and well-ordered area with plenty of light from glass doors facing the lawn. Life-sized figures of gymnasts and dancers compete for space with half-finished smaller figurines – the bronzes are fired at the Swissart foundry in Jussy, just down the road. Small figures are often private commissions for Russian yachts or Asian clients, while a larger three-quarter size study in the corner was modelled on the British-Croatian socialite Petra Ecclestone. “It took me eight weeks to complete, from drawings to finish, and I took it out to her mansion in Los Angeles this January,” says Cardozo, referring to Ecclestone’s 56,000 sq ft estate in Bel Air, which she bought for $85m in 2011. Such bronzes start at about £50,000 for a half life-size and reach more than £100,000 for the large-scale monuments that Cardozo has completed for public buildings.

It was during her exhibition at the Beau-Rivage Palace hotel in Lausanne in 2010, next door to the Olympic Museum, that she first had the idea of including her work at the London 2012 Olympics. After being approached to supply sculptures of gymnasts in the Olympic Museum, she wrote to Lord Coe, who headed London’s bid to host the Games, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and David Cameron, the British prime minister, only to have her ideas rejected.

Then she was approached by a charity, Youth With A Mission, and asked to make a four-metre public monument for display outside Westminster Abbey. A three-metre gymnast by Cardozo was also installed at Heathrow’s T5 Gallery during the Games, which now sits outside Wellington Barracks near Buckingham Palace.

The project gave her a taste for bigger sculptures in public places, something she plans to do more of in the future. “I do feel if you are given a talent, then it should be used for the good of others,” says Cardozo. “And I want to make sculptures where people can enjoy them for free. Beauty and art enhance people’s lives and I’m in a fortunate position to donate occasionally.”

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Buying guide

Pros

● Access to other European cities from Geneva is easy for business day trips and weekends away

● It is possible to live in the countryside and still be only 10 minutes from the city centre

● A large international community with English widely spoken

Cons

● Very little culture; it might be rather quiet for some people

● Limited shopping compared with the UK, particularly supermarkets

● High cost of living compared with many other European cities

What you can buy for . . . 

€100,000: A very small studio in an inexpensive area, such as Meyrin, Russin or Aire

€1m: A two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 150 sq metre property in an upmarket suburban area

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Letter in response to this article:

Expat’s misery in a cloud of midges / From Emeritus Prof SK Pavlowitch

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