(2010) This early springtime trip began in Southwest France; up in the PYRENEES MOUNTAINS where there are a number of limestone caves with prehistoric artifacts. Only a few have Art, however, and some of those are not open to the public. And if you go during the early shoulder season, the remaining caves are only open on Sundays. We passed carloads of skiers and snowshoers as we made our way up into the snow-covered mountains. Our reward was seeing the soaring steel entry to Grotte de Niaux, overlooking the Vicdessos River. The artifacts in this cave are from the Magdalenian period, 11,000-14,000 years BC.
After lunch in a charming restaurant in Tarascon sur Ariège, we caught a second show at the Grande Caverne de Bédeilhac, which is in the Ariège region. Also of the Magdalenian period, these caves didn’t have the lovely entryway like Niaux (as a matter of fact the ticket office/gift shop was built by the Nazis when they used the cave during the war). We were the only visitors that day so the young woman was able to give us an excellent tour in English. In addition to paintings, the stars here are the relief carvings of horses and clay molds of bison. Some of the stalagmites and stalactites were spectacular.
We actually began our tour the day before in LIMOUX, just north of the caves. The reason for this visit was to see the last weekend of Fècos (Occitan – the old local language- for “carnival”). Two little parades began on opposite sides of town, at the ancient city gates, and proceeded to the center. Each group featured men and boys wearing masks and dressing up in a variety of costumes - a good many as women, but others dressed according to the theme of the parade.
There was, in Limoux, a museum which we were able to visit before the afternoon activities, which included more dancing and music and a troop of bicyclists peddling through town wearing blue smocks, berets plus big nose/eyebrow glasses accompanied by music blaring from a speaker.
The Musée Petiet began when the Petiet family of artists donated their collections and their home to the town. Additional private donations, and gifts to the State make up the rest of the collection. The canvases are examples of Art from the second half of the 19th century as painted by the Petiet brothers and sister, Marie, and later Marie’s husband Etienne Bujardin-Beaumetz who did paintings of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Plus there are paintings by their contemporaries, which they had acquired.
Les Blanchisseuses by Marie Petiet
Before leaving town we visited Sieur d’Arques for a couple of bottles of bubbly. The nuns of St-Hilaire invented “Blanquette” in 1531 - one hundred years before Dom Perignon bottled sparkling wine in the Champagne district. “Blanquette” means "white" in the local Occitan language.
The next day we began our search for Art along the Mediterranean coast at the birthplace of Fauvism, COLLIOURE. Monsieurs Henri Matisse and André Derain led a group of artists who favored purposeful brushwork and strong colors over the retained realism of the Impressionists. Others in the movement were Raoul Dufy, Alfred Maurer and Georges Braque. They called themselves the “Wild Beasts.” Perhaps so after hoisting a few at the Templar Bar at Collioure’s waterfront, where the walls are covered with artwork left by the Fauvists to cover their bar tabs.
Visitors to Collioure are invited to follow Le Chemin du Fauvisme in the footsteps along the picturesque harborfront of those artists a century ago. There are posters of paintings by Matisse and Derain, but the most fun outdoor art was Point 2 Vue, a series of twelve frames erected by artist Marc Andre in different parts of the town offering various views of the iconic Notre Dame des Anges.
Up the coast from Collioure, SAINT CYPRIEN didn’t look much different from the other small Catalan fishing villages taken over by yacht-filled marinas. But in addition to having a wonderful old 13th century Catalan church that entrances one with its open spaciousness and simplicity in design, Saint Cyprien was home to the collections of François Desnoyer. Desnoyer was a well-known artist of the early to mid-20th century. The all-black galleries of the Centre d’Art Contemporain display many of the 700 pieces (mostly drawings) left by Desnoyer, which includes work by Mattise, Dufy, Chagall, Miro, and Picasso.
La Femme a la Fenetre by Leopold Survage
I think the most impressive sight in the museum the day we were there was not the paintings on the wall - and there were many impressive paintings in the bright airy rooms. It was the crowds of people that came to look at the Art. As usual, there were plenty of seniors, but no tour buses, yet. And also not so unusual were the classes of schoolchildren. What I found a little remarkable was the behavior of the kids. Seated on the floor in front of a large blue painting by Chagall, was a group of, perhaps, pre-school children. They sat quietly while the docent told them stories about the painting. They enthusiastically asked questions and made comments. They were genuinely involved. Oh sure they squirmed occasionally. In other galleries, like the one containing all the bowls in which Picasso had painted scenes of bullfighting, older students were working quietly in groups or gathered together for instruction. Again, you could see that even kids of a cynical age were engaged.
There was a temporary show by Patrick Jude featuring his very over-sized portraits of the heads of the museum’s workers. It was fun to see the huge painting of the room attendant’s face with her sitting right there.
Another small town with an Art museum was ELNE, just a stones throw (and there were plenty of stones to throw) from Céret. Besides the glass studio across from the tourist office, the artistic attraction was the Musée Terrus d’Art Modern. Finding the place was a challenge in the maze of narrow passageways, but not impossible. Inside were well-done exhibits of watercolor and oil paintings by Étienne Terrus, friend of Mattise and Derain. In addition there are works on display by contemporary artists that had lived in Elne. The WW II memorial in town was called Pomone (below) and was created by well-known sculptor Aristide Maillol.
Lunch in LAGRASSE (officially one of the most beautiful villages in France) which was supposed to be a center for potters and other artists. On this weekday noon it proved to be a virtual ghost town.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts was closed when we got to CARCASSONNE, but there was plenty to do while we waited. It was just a short walk to the fairytale medieval city in one direction and a vibrant, working city in the other. We did a little of both.
The museum began with 102 paintings in 1845. With additional donations and bequests through the years and acquisitions made by the Town Council, the museums collections provide a wide-ranging display of Art from the 17th - 20th century, now housed in a former courthouse. A delightful exhibition of Art with a musical theme was shown on the ground floor.
Back toward the coast. The heydays of PERPIGNAN came during the time when it was the continental capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, around 1275. Later fortunes were made trading wine. The Musée des Beaux Arts Hyacinthe Rigaud can be found in the old quarter of town close to the shops and restaurants. Originally the building was the mansion of the Marquis de Blanes, then the Lazerme Hotel in the 19th century. Artists such as Chagal, Cocteau, and Picasso made long stays there. And while the museum was founded in 1820 and later named for Hyacinthe Rigaud, a portrait painter for Louis XIV who was born in Perpignan, the museum has been in its current quarters since 1979. The permanent collection included works by Picasso, Terrus, Dufy, Maillol, David and, of course, Rigaud.
While I couldn’t find other museums of Art in town, it didn’t take long to notice a good number of sculptures of women, including a Maillol..
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire was located within the massive medieval municipal building, formerly the Archbishop’s Palace. Past the Mayor’s office, the Police and the “salle de marriage,” we found an old courtyard with a wide stone staircase and began to climb. Up a couple of floors, we spotted some Art through a doorway, but it was not the museum. This beautiful room with painted panel ceiling, massive fireplace, and elegant furnishings was being used for a show and sale of local – I could only assume – mostly amateur painters. The prices were professional, however. No, we had to continue climbing the tower to the top level. The museum was housed in what were once the lavish apartments of the Archbishop himself, and has an interesting collection of paintings from different schools and countries including works by Tintoretto, Ribera and Brueghel as well as painters of Languedoc. Some rooms with decorated ceilings and ancient mosaics on the floors were filled with ceramics, furniture and other non-paintings.
Two new galleries were specially designed to display the first permanent public collection of Orientalist paintings in France. The rooms have colorful arches and other devices to create some very suitable space for the 125 works by Dinet, Fromentin, Majorelle, Benjamin Constant and others.
Black Guard to the Marrakech Palm Grove by Jackquest Marjorelle
Fighting around a penny by Etienne Dinat
This part of the Languedoc coast was lined with saltwater lakes often separated by just a narrow strip of land from the Mediterranean Sea. Suddenly there was an almost round wide spot. That was SETE. Though inhabited since the Bronze Age, the city of Sète was created in 1666 when the port was constructed. Still an important fishing port, Art co-exists here very nicely. Almost everything faced the fishing boat-lined canals that divide Sète. Over by a big pile of fishing nets, we found the Centre Régional d'Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon. This spacious former warehouse offered lots of space for any kind of contemporary Art. There were three exhibitions: Drink in Park by Florence Paradeis, Lighting Dark by Sylvain Rousseau and Soul to Soul by Chourouk Hriech.
After stopping at several galleries with a variety of Art (even a real estate office with its walls hung with paintings), we found the Musée International des Arts Modestes on the other side of the canal. In what seemed to be an old theater, there was a large show called Sur le Fil, Deviances Textiles – an exposition of contemporary textile art. Very interesting stuff and we were there with a couple of groups of teenage students who seemed to be enjoying it as well.
At this point we moved our base of operations from Argeles Plage to Eygalieres, on the edge of the Alpilles, just east of St. Remy.
MONTPELLIER was the next city up the coast from Sète. An historic college town and capital of the Department of Herault, we found Montepellier to be the most fascinating city on our tour. Art was everywhere you looked. From the playground filled with imaginative forms based on music in the Place de la Comédie, and the photography show outside nearby to the many colorful sculptures, we knew Art was an important element in this town.
With 1,000 drawings and 5,000 prints in the museum’s collection every subject was covered and seemingly every artist represented. French: Fragonard, Oudry, Philippe de Champaigne, Sébastien Bourdon, Charles Natoire; Italians: Guercino, the Carraches, Titian, Tiepolo; and Dutch & Flemish: Van Dyck and Rubens. There were 500 pieces on display.
Nearby was a great triumphal arch from the late 17th century that overlooked the oldest botanical gardens in France (1593), but we had to hurry back to the Place de la Comédie (locally called “L’Oeuf” because of the park’s oval/egg shape) to the Musée Fabre. We got there a little late so began with the Houdon exhibit that just opened entitled Sculpture and Sensibility.
As one of the most famous French artists of the eighteenth century, Jean-Antoine Houdon was the sculptor of the “Enlightenment,” and the most successful portrait sculptor of his time. He worked in France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and the United States of America, creating not only portraits of middle-class clients, French and American philosophers of the Enlightenment like Voltaire, Denis Diderot, and Benjamin Franklin; but also of rulers such as Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, Louis XVI, Napoleon I, and George Washington.
The exhibition centers on the shivering form of Houdon’s La Frileuse, the marble personification of winter. Nineteen of the forty pieces in the show are Houdon’s, done in various materials. This was complimented with work by his contemporaries.
The Musée Fabre had more than fifty rooms covering the spectrum of artistic periods. Our faves coming in rooms 37-45 “le modernite” (1850-1914) where we were delighted to find work by the husband and wife painters Robert and Sonia Delaunay.
Montpellier had a new tramway system and even turned that into an Art Gallery of work that could be seen from the tram:
Tribute to Confucius by Alain Jacquet at stop Sci. & Humans Univs
Human Constellation by Chen Zhen at stop Mosson
Untitled by Ludger at stop Port Marianne
Allegories by Allan McCollum at stop Corum
The Voyage by Sarkis at Gare St. Roch stop
Seeing the Houdon sculpture led me to remember the exquisite Houdon statue of George Washington which I have seen many times in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. Coincidentally, the building itself was designed by Thomas Jefferson after the Roman Maison Carré in Nimes. When we got to NIMES, the Maison Carré was closed for restoration. Across the street, however, was the Carré d’Art/Musée d’Art Contemporain. A great glass building with a glass staircase housed a “médiatèque” (which was what they were beginning to call libraries in France) on the lower floors and the museum on the upper levels. The space was well suited for extra large contemporary Art pieces and installations.
On the top floor was a show of Art by Michael Raedecker and Isa Melsheimer. Raedecker’s grey monochromes with their wool and thread add-ons were very effective and Melsheimer’s embroidery was outstanding. Downstairs were installations by Giuseppe Penone, Gabriel Orozco, Wolfgang Laib, and Mario Merz; and paintings by Martial Raysse, Gerhard Richter, and Albert Oehlen, among others.
Frame by Michael Raedecker
artwork under the floor by Isa Melsheimer
There was even an Art show in the médiathèque downstairs.
After lunch, there was the Musée des Beaux Arts de Nimes. Another lovely building from 1907 with an entrance outlined with an unusual, almost deco mosaic. The inside courtyard was dominated by a huge Roman floor mosaic illustrating the marriage of Admetus. The surrounding grandiose rooms displayed some very large paintings that filled each wall with a pantheon of characters. French, Flemish, Dutch, Italian. There were 3,600 works in the collection. All were there, notably Rubens, della Robbia, and Delaroche.
The exhibition finished with a show of Henry Clamens, born in Nimes in 1905.
We visited the famed Jardin des Fontaines and found the fountains unfilled and not operating. Another piece that features water, but was not running was in Place d’Assas. Designed by Martial Raysse in 1989, running water flows between two monumental heads representing Nemausa, the spring that gave Nimes its name, and Nemausus, the “male force” of the town.
The Musée Calvet in AVIGNON was an old museum with old Art. This was another museum begun by the bequest of a personal collection, in this case Esprit Calvet, who died in 1810. The museum building was from the mid-16th century and contained a bit of everything.
Mr. Calvet put together a scholarly collection including artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Africa. With additional collections and donations, along with the French way of exchanging Art from one museum to another, the museum now has works by painters and sculptors including Corot, Manet, Bonnard, Dufy, Soutine and many others.
Unfortunately, we were not able to see the Collection Lambert Musée d’Art Contemporain because they were between shows and therefore closed. Established in 2000 with a loan of 350 artworks, the collection boasted more than 1200 works. Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, Land Art, the diverse collection of Yvon Lambert fought against the academicism of French painting. Too bad we missed it.
Directly across the street from Musée Angladon, is the Ceccano Médiathèque which was offering a show of Art called Objets rêvés or Objects Dreamed by artists Régine Lathus and Franck Sotelo. A wonderful display of pieces based on puns. French puns, that is, so we didn’t always get them, but many we did and they were all well done.
“Pan” is French for “bread,” therefore this is a Pan Flute
“Chaise” is French for “chair”.making this a Chaise-burger
Of course we visited a weekly flower market, saw another church-turned-art gallery, checked out the Papal Palace and the famous “pont d’Avignon” of childhood song before leaving town.
Paul Cézanne was born in AIX-EN-PROVENCE (1839) and died in Aix-en-Provence (1906), so it was no surprise he was celebrated there with In the steps of Paul Cézanne. The tour included the home in which he was born, the Chapellerie, his father's bank, Bourbon College where he became friends with Emile Zola, the family estate - Jas de Bouffan, and the flat where he lived from 1899 to his death. This isn’t our thing usually, so we didn’t go.
Author with Cézanne
We began, instead, with the Musée Granet. While touting images of Cézanne on posters and flyers, the first two floors of the museum and more, were filled with framed drawings, not even Cézanne’s. Eventually we found the new Cézannes, plus a few other paintings on the top floor. Down on the lower level, which we found by accident, there was an interesting Rembrandt, as well as an Ingres and a large gallery packed with classical sculpture.
by Victor Vasarely
Instead of following Cézanne’s routes or visiting the Vasarely Foundation (Victor Vasarely, father of Op Art) we decided to look for as many fountains as we could. There were around forty of them that once distributed water around the city, from the most ancient Espelunque (15th century) and Fountain of the Four Dolphins (1667), to the grand Rotunda fountain (1860), it was a great way to see a lot of the old city. Click here to see pictures.
fontaine de la Rontonde
We had two major disappointments on this trip: Marseille and Toulon. Both cities had Art museums, but they were either closed the days we went there, or they were between shows, or they were in the midst of five-year renovations. This happens sometime, especially the long-term renovations. Almost like a physical loss because we missed the chance to see a museum. But we quickly got over it and moved on to the next adventure.
Unknown demonstration/performance Art
FREJUS was on our schedule because of the flower festival that began the day we were going through, Good Friday. The displays were small, but very nice, and held in the shadow of a Roman aqueduct ruins. We went into town for lunch and discovered the Circuit des Métiers d’Art Fréjus which recalls the ancient traditions of the town’s craftspeople. The contemporary route of Artisans and Craftsmen includes the whole spectrum of Art among the thirty-two listed on the brochure. We found Claire Monnier at work in her shop and liked very much her techniques, including cement on the surface and the interplay of mosaic and painting.
Fréjus Flower and Garden Show
We were on the way to our third base of operations in BIOT, halfway between Cannes and Nice. It was actually a campground where we rented a mobile home that was just down the street from the Musée National Fernand Léger, which happened to be open on Easter. This good-size building was constructed in 1959 by his wife Nadia to house some of Leger’s massive works, both inside and out. On the ground floor was a temporary exhibit that included Nadia’s work as well. Click here for more photos.
The Musée National Marc Chagall was high up on one of NICE’s hillsides. Since we were not the first to make the pilgrimage, however, flights of stairs had been installed to make it “easier.” Of course, you could take the #15 bus or a cab. The setting, however, was perfect for this contemporary building which opened in 1973, perfectly matched for the Art within.
Sometimes called the Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall (Marc Chagall Museum of Biblical Themes), there were seventeen superbly displayed large canvases depicting biblical scenes and themes in bright, joyous colors. There were also sculptures, stained glass windows, mosaics, tapestries, sketches, engravings, and lithographs from this important 20th-century artist.
In one large airy room were twelve paintings, each a narrative episode from the Old Testament. The other five paintings illustrate the Song of Songs as variations on love. The artist said that he hoped people would leave the museum having "found a certain peace, a certain religiosity, a feeling of life." Chagall helped open the museum and was active in the museum's life until his death in 1985. Click here for pictures.
In the very heart of Nice was the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, (MAMAC) a huge edifice that straddled the roadway and bisected a long park that separated the old port city from the new. Architects Yves Bayrad and Henri Vidal inaugurated their very original tetrapod arch design in 1990, providing three levels with glass passageways for over 43,000 square feet of exhibition space. In addition, there were open terraces on the roof, which provided not only wonderful views of Nice, but a place for additional installations of Art, such as Le Mur de Feu by Yves Klein, and other artworks. Outside the museum, on both sides, were monumental sculptures by favorites such as Calder, di Suvero, Barry Flanagan, Bemar Venet, Sandro Chia, and more. Two extraordinary works by Niki de Saint Phalle adorned the esplanade: Le Monstre du Loch Ness (1993, below) and Les Baigneurs (1983).
view from MAMAC
I will not attempt to list all of the artists represented in the permanent collection, though tempted as I am to mention favorites such as Andrew Gormley and Claus Oldenberg. Yves Klein and Niki de Saint Phalle were well represented inside the museum as well as out. The first level was for temporary shows and was filled with wire works by Wim Delvoye and photographic mixed media by Laurence Aëgerter. Click here to see more pictures.
La Terre by Cheret, 1900
Continuing west a few more blocks, the houses got bigger with green gardens between. Here we found the Musée International d'Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky de la ville de Nice. The museum was in the beautifully restored turn-of-the-century Château Ste-Hélène in the Fabron district. It was once the home of parfumer François Coty. One of the world’s leading Art critics, Anatole Jakovsky, donated his collection of over 600 works by naïve artists from around the world. The exhibit included artworks of all sizes and media, featuring several Croatians artists and, naturally, lots of French, like Henri Rousseau. The cherry on top was the outrageous sculptures by Frédéric Lanovsky (from nearby Cannes), both out on the lawn and looking out from a balcony. Click here for more pics.
Pascal Pinaud and Stephane Magnin – Composition Exuberate de Reverberes Hybrides
Michael Craig Martin – Cascade of Objects
Jean-Michel Othoniel – Le Confident
Jaume Plensa – Conversation of Nice
Emmanuel Saulnier – Je Vis de l’Eau Elle s’Ecoule
Sarkis – Les Postes Restantes de la Porte Fausse
Ange Leccia – Disque Solaire
Gunda Forster – Blue. Hommage au Bleu d’Yves Klein
Yan Kersall – Lamorse du Bleu
Pierre di Sciullo – Totems
While searching for the above Art (not always successfully), we came upon the Church of Sainte Jeanne D'Arc. A striking white domed building (sometimes called “meringue”) in the residential Fuon Cauda neighborhood, the inside was dominated by a two-part sculpture done by Charles Sarrabezolles in 1926. It was called Jeanne d’Arc Ecoutant les Voix with Joan on one side of the sanctuary listening to the voices on the other. Very moving.
Artwork by Yona Friedman
For those unaware, the Manifesto of Concrete Art was poured in 1930 and Espace de l’Art de Concret celebrates the artform. Since 1990 Sybil Albers and the artist Gottfried Honegger, Swiss collectors, have worked to establish the Espace de l’Art Concret (EAC). And in 2000, they donated their collections to the French state with the understanding that a building to house the nearly 500 works of art would be constructed. Zurich architects Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer designed said building, which opened its doors in 2004. The outside of the cube-shaped concrete building was stained bright yellow-green making a startling effect behind the spring leaves of the wooded grounds. Inside was a kaleidoscope of Art arranged in a very pleasing manner.
Espagna Lura by Eduardo Chillida
We drove all the way to the Italian border to the town of MENTON in order to see their Musée des Beaux Arts because it houses some of the original reliefs and artifacts found in the cave at Bédeilhac. Little did we know it also had a full collection of paintings from a variety of periods, schools, and styles. Or that it would be in the former Carnoles Palace, of the Grimaldi family, princes of Monaco.
It didn’t matter, because it was closed. So after walking a little around town, we headed back down the coast to MONTE CARLO.
In researching this trip, I was surprised to discover that Monaco had no Art museum of its own. But at the last minute I saw something about lots of sculptures in the municipality. Turns out the Prince of Monaco has been installing inspiring works by internationally renowned artists. It was a collection of almost 100 creations placed in gardens and parks throughout the Principality. There was a pedestrian walk in the Fontvielle district called the Sculpture Path which had the majority of pieces. Some of those sculptures were on top of the Rock of Monaco, site of the Palace, Cathedral and the oldest part of the city. Click here to see sculpture.
Le Poing by Cesar
Renaissance by Kim Hamisky
Continuing down the coast, we came to SAINT JEAN CAP FERRAT, a finger of land just above Nice. It was too late in the day to attempt a visit to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild which has an art collection and gardens. But when we reached the harbor, we found a sidewalk sculpture show. It seemed rather informal with most sculptures not identified and others that looked like advertising. A delightful surprise at the end of the day. Click here for pics.
That was the end of three weeks, but we still had two more unplanned days to find more Art while heading back to Barcelona. We had read about the marble quarries at CAUNE-MINERVOIS, less than an hour northwest of Narbonne. We also heard it was a quiet town, but I suppose they were talking about during the season. At this time of year it was well beyond quiet.
Evidence of the beautiful red marble, however, was all over town, starting with a series of sculptures next to the parking lot. Bears, a panther, a bull, and a couple of giant heads remained from the 2000 International Stone Sculpture Symposium held there. A sculpture of grapes was in front of the closed restaurant and one of a fine horse’s head just down the street. Well worth the visit. Click here to see more pictures.
CASTRES was a district capital in the Tarn district, still in Languedoc. Home of an École des Beaux Arts and the Musée Goya, Castres was an Art town. After lunch and a lot of walking we found an Art show and competition in the lobby, hallways, and staircases of the beautiful Municipal theatre. I had to pay for the privilege of voting for my favorite. Across the street was the Goya Museum but, to be honest, we don’t really like Goya and it was getting late in the day.
More performance Art
We closed our trip back in CARCASSONNE, which was just south of Castres, to see Les Amazones. Late in the morning, at the entrance to La Cité (medieval Carcassonne) we witnessed a parade of women wearing various costumes riding sidesaddle on their horses into the walled city. Costumed drivers with carriages joined in, as did several hawk handlers.
A few hours later these women met at the local hippodrome to participate in dressage competition. Maybe not Art, but beautiful to watch. We stayed for sixteen contestants before leaving for Spain. Click here for video.