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.

A visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton

Uber-rich Arabs, Russians, Thais and Chinese acquire football clubs, but the French – been there, done that, got the t-shirt – establish Fondations. Even as I type work is being carried out on the old stock exchange opposite Les Halles for M Pinault’s Fondation. The Galleries Lafayette ruling family have recently opened the Lafayette Anticipations in Le Marais. We’re slowly working our way around them all. Last week-end we hopped on the Metro and the Fondation’s own bus service, to visit Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry, which opened in 2014.

Frank Gehry’s vision

I dream. I dream of designing a magnificent vessel for Paris that symbolises France’s profound cultural vocation.

Gehry, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1989, achieved his dream thanks to the generosity of another of France’s billionaires. Like so many great buildings, this one started with a few squiggles, a bit like sails in the wind.

The Fondation is set in a truly lovely location, in the Bois de Bologne, near the historic royal route to the west of Paris. The building has terraces of different heights affording stunning views over the trees in the park, some even offer a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

The building is made from a simple palette of materials and colours, from the Burgundy limestone pave outside to the wooden screens in Le Frank restaurant. But its the glass which dominates and catches the eye with its geometric curves and lines. Its twelve sails play with the light and reflections from the basin of water in which the building sits.

I’ll be honest, I absolutely loved the building and it is reminiscent of a ship particularly on the staircase landings with their exposed steel structural walls which look like the hull of a ship. The spaces inside are extraordinary, all different shapes and sizes and often in unexpected places.

Permanent Exhibits

There are various commissions both inside and outside of the building. In the Auditorium is a work called Spectrum. Alongside the walkway in the Grotto are 43 prism shaped columns of varying width encouraging visitors to activate a continuous interplay of reflections. The water tank on the West Terrace is in fact a small planet that has landed on the terrace! Overlooking the restaurant, the Fish Lamps evoke both the marine world and the idea of movement.

Open Space

Easily missed, this spot is reserved for very contemporary work by young artists. This is Lips and Ears (2017) a monumental sculpture of two heads in a boat.

Children’s Activities

As we wandered around I was intrigued to see guides discussing the exhibits with bunches of young children in a very fun and interactive way. Particularly in the Takashi Murakami exhibits with its colourful characters which no doubt provoke the kids’ imaginations. the Fondation also has an app (who doesn’t these days) which allows kids to look at the building interactively.

Exhibition: Au Diapason du Monde (at one with the world)

The main exhibition included the works by the Japanese artist mentioned and shown above but the rest of the spaces were given over to exploring man’s position within the universe and his relationship with other living things. And, just in case you were wondering, that’s not a real dead horse swinging from the ceiling! How do I know? I asked!