Days out: Chagall exhibition

We were recently able to combine a trip to one of our favourite towns, Aix-en-Provence, with a visit to a Chagall exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont (pictured above), lunch at a nearby hotel (Hotel Le Pigonnet) with a gorgeous garden and watching our first live cycle race of the season (stage 4 of the Tour de la Provence) in which a number of our friends were riding. I call that a definite result!

It was a pleasant 90 minute drive in glorious sunshine from home to Aix. The scenery was magnificent: from the rusty-red rocks of Roquebrune to the stern grey of the Sainte Victoire, the mimosa provided flashes of gold among the dark evergreens while the vines were just starting to emerge from their winter pruning.

We left the car in the hotel car park after availing ourselves of the hotel’s facilities and enjoying a coffee ourdoors in its garden. We wandered into town and purchased some goodies from its Sunday market before returning to the hotel for a leisurely and delicious lunch, after which we visited the Hotel du Caumont to see its Chagall exhibition.

I’ve visited the museum in nearby [to Nice] Cimiez devoted to his works several times but am always keen to learn more about someone whom I  consider a local artist. A Franco-Russian by birth, he moved to Vence in 1949 and then, like many of his contemporories, settled in Saint Paul de Vence until his death aged 98 in 1985 – a good innings!

This is an interesting exhibition that sheds light on an unexplored dimension of Marc Chagall’s work. He was celebrated as a master of colour by the artists and critics of his day but this exhibition, which is devoted to the latter part of his career, highlights his change of style in the period from 1948 until his death.

Over 100 works (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, washes, gouaches, and collages) reflect Chagall’s artistic exploration of monochrome (black and white) and his mastery of particularly luminous, intense, and profound tints. After spending the WWII years in exile in USA, he adopted a bolder artistic approach, in which the study of volume led him to explore the world of light, shade, materials, and the transparency of black and white. The study of the chromatic and luminous subtleties of black and white resulted in the use of intense and bright colours that gave his pictorial oeuvre a completely new dimension. It was an illuminating exhibition in a gorgeous location.


Lunchtime date: Saint Tropez

One of the hazards of working for oneself is that, whatever the day of the week, one of your clients somewhere in the world will be working. Consequently, we rarely enjoy any Bank holidays. Then, of course, there’s the disparity in various Bank holidays. For example, Good Friday is not a holiday in France though it is in UK. Nonetheless, yesterday we finally tackled the caves (basement storage rooms) and we have  liberated our guest room which has masqueraded for the past 18 months as the world’s largest storeroom. Everything is now neatly packed up in waterproof, numbered, plastic boxes and, more importantly, I know where everything is stored.

Bearing the smug smiles of people who’ve finally tackled a long-outstanding task, we gave some thought to the rest of the Easter week-end. We had friends coming round for dinner on Monday and Sunday I’d be watching the Tour of Flanders. The outlook for Easter Saturday wasn’t favourable but, to avoid spending a further day at home, we decided to go out and avert cabin fever. We’d had thunder and lightning with heavy rain overnight, with more promised during the day. Where to go? Finally, we recognised we hadn’t been over to Saint Tropez since New Year’s day 2016 – zut alors!

It was a pleasant drive along the motorway as the recent mix of rain and sunshine had ensured that everything was blooming. The trees had bright lime green leaves and while the mimosa had faded it had been replaced by pale apple and cherry blossom. The melange of green on the hills was a delight, particularly against the backdrop of the red rocks.

As we turned off the motorway to head to Saint Tropez, the landscape becomes more rugged and undulating. There wasn’t too much traffic and we made good time along the coast road. As we were queueing to get into Saint Tropez, an inattentive Belgian ran into the back of my car, breaking the light on my bike carrier – better that than my car. He handed me Euros 50,00 to get it fixed.

We parked in the Hotel de Paris car park before heading to our favourite restaurant for lunch. We chose this restaurant on our maiden trip to Saint Tropez many years ago using my father’s guidelines: great location, linen tablecloths and napkins, full of locals, family owned, been there for ever – well, since 1887. It’s one of the most popular and well-known cafes in the port and is the perfect place to indulge in a spot of people watching.

It was warm enough to sit outside. As always the place was heaving and we were fortunate to get a table in a prime spot. The cafe and its patisserie is a veritable goldmine, directed by M le Patron and his well-drilled staff. It’s open all day, seven days a week, aside from a few weeks early January to mid-February. It’s a great cafe, bar and late night restaurant. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or a big night out!

The shortish menu is full of crowd-pleasers. I had a truffle omelette while my beloved had a burger – more of which later – washed down with some local rose, with a couple of coffees to finish. The omelette was perfection, baveuse (runny), fluffy and pale gold. The burger also scored top marks from my beloved. After lunch we wandered around the port and shops dodging the short, sharp showers.

Saint Tropez’s pretty –  but not overly so –  colourful, with a charming laid-back atmosphere and lots of pretty side streets to investigate. This early in the season some of the shops, hotels and restaurants are closed but the place was nevertheless thronged with locals and tourists, the latter notably from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. After very pleasantly whiling away a number of hours, we leapt in the car and drove home to watch the French League Cup Final from Bordeaux – PSG v FC Monaco – the perfect ending to a lovely day out.


Days out: Alfred Sisley exhibition

As I was driving past Aix-en-Provence the other week on the way back from the start of stage five of Paris-Nice 2018, I was reminded of a lovely day we had spent there last October. When we stayed in Aix-en-Provence in July to watch two stages of the Tour de France, we noted that Aix’s Hotel de Caumont had an exhibition of the works of Alfred Sisley. I resolved we’d return to Aix to see the exhibition before it closed in mid-October. We duly set aside a day in our diaries to visit both the exhibition and the town. It was a truly glorious day with temperatures peaking at 29C in Aix!

After a trip to the market for some fruit and vegetables, we headed for the exhibition on the assumption it would be quieter over lunch. Our assumption was correct, the museum wasn’t crowded. The exhibition of some sixty works, not all of which have regularly been exhibited in public, retraced the various stages in the development of Sisley’s works by focusing on some of the painter’s favourite locations – very appropriate for a landscape artist – and works from his entire career.

Although we’ve admired his work, we really didn’t know too much about him other than he was brought up in France by British parents. We discovered that, more than any other Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley utterly devoted himself to painting landscapes, and remained faithful to the movement’s founding principles of painting the scenes in situ, outdoors. Said to be inspired by John Constable in his approach to painting landscapes based on rural motifs, Sisley would carry out a systematic visual analysis of precise places based on his knowledge and experience, exploring them in every direction, noting down the differences between the scenes with the changing light, weather and seasons.

We both love his way of capturing the effects of the light dancing on the surface of the water, the brightness of the winter sun on the snow and the ice, the movements of the trees in the wind, the depth of the rural scenes, and the immensity of the skies which produce moving works worthy of peaceful contemplation. Archive photographs of the landscapes Sisley observed are exhibited alongside his paintings to illustrate the specific methods he adopted to analyse the scenes and takes the visitor from one favourite location to the next; from those where he lived—Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi, Sèvres, Veneux-Nadon, and Moret-sur-Loing— to those where he stayed for short periods, such as Villeneuve-la-Garenne and Argenteuil, Hampton Court and the south coast of Wales.

Feeling much more knowledgeable about his work, we departed before the hoards returned to enjoy a late lunch in the open air. It’s rare to visit an exhibition where I’d be happy to have any of the artists’ works on my walls – I should be so lucky! – but I could honestly say that of this beautifully curated exhibition. It may now have departed Aix but I’m sure it’ll pop up somewhere else soon enough.