Days out: Fondation Maeght

Where to go on a rainy Saturday? We have plenty of options but I’d only recently appreciated my beloved had never visited the nearby Fondation Maeght, one of France’s more important private art foundations and a particular favourite of mine. I’ve visited a number of times in the past but hadn’t realised that my last visit was back in 2011! It was most definitely time to remedy that oversight.

Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, a visionary couple of publishers and art dealers, who represented and were friends with some of the most important 20th century artists, including Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall and many others, set up the Fondation. Inaugurated on 26th July, 1964, by Charles de Gaulle’s Culture Minister André Malraux, a close friend of the Maeghts, the Fondation was France’s very first private art institution. It was modeled on American institutions such as the Guggenheim Foundation, the Barnes and Phillips Collections, which the Maeghts had visited during their frequent trips to the United States in the 1950s.

Located near the village of Saint Paul de Vence, 25 km from Nice, the Fondation Maeght is a unique architectural complex designed by Josep Lluís Sert, showing modern and contemporary art in all its diversity. Painters and sculptors worked in collaboration with the Catalan architect to create a place where art, nature and architecture blend in perfect harmony. I’d say they succeeded.

I’m not normally a fan of 1960s architecture but I love the exhibition space’s use of a limited palette of materials from the beautiful terracotta floor tiles, to the painted concrete stairs and walls. The building’s sparcity forms the perfect backdrop for the collection, particularly the larger works. I also like that viewing platforms and windows give different perspectives, particularly of the garden sculptures.

The Foundation’s highlights include the Giacometti courtyard, featuring an exceptional ensemble of sculptures by the Swiss artist, the Miró labyrinth, a whimsical sculpture garden by the Catalan artist, monumental mosaic murals by Marc Chagall and Pierre Tal Coat, plus a pool designed by Georges Braque.

The sculpture garden features a rotating selection of works by Calder, Takis, Miro and Arp among others. aside from the exhibition galleries hosting temporary as well as selected works from the permanent collection. There’s also a consecrated chapel, dedicated to Saint Bernard, in memory of the Maeght’s young son Bernard who died of leukemia, plus an impressive art library, and the usual coffee and gift shops.

The Fondation has one of the largest collections (approx. 13,000) of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper of modern and contemporary art in Europe. A tightly curated selection of works from the permanent collection is on view at all time in the exhibition galleries. Artworks from the collection are also regularly included in temporary exhibitions either at the Fondation and or in other institutions around the world.

The Fondation’s current exhibition features selected, donated works from its own collection, curated by art critic Henri-François Debailleux. The Foundation has amassed a wealth of exquisite works over the years, first and foremost from Marguerite and Aimé Maeght and subsequently gifts from artists, friends, family members, collectors and supporters of the Foundation. Because the works hail from very different sources they constitute, by their very nature, a very heterogeneous ensemble; yet trends, links and interactions can be identified:

Variety is the driving force of the collection; diversity the beat of its heart.

An added attraction for my beloved is that one of our favourite restaurants is within walking distance of the Fondation and where I’d booked us a table for lunch.