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The House where Picasso lived

In a couple of my recent posts, I’ve mentioned that Picasso spent his final years in a beautiful villa in Mougins. So here’s the property which has an interesting provenance and a surprising ending.

Despite being Spanish-born, most of Picasso’s adult life was spent in France, and in his later years, Mougins specifically. His home, the Villa Notre Dame de Vie, which he once labelled ‘the home of his dreams’, has since become a valued piece of Mougins history, despite now being privately owned.

Benjamin Seymour Guinness first spotted the spectacular Mas de Notre Dame de Vie property in 1925. It was then a “mas” (a traditional farmhouse) but Guinness, a banker and philanthropist descended from the banking arm of the Guinness family, and his artist wife Bridget converted it into a luxurious villa.

The warm-all-year-round climate and the gorgeous light of the surrounding area soon made Mougins a desirable destination for artists both amateur and professional. Of the former, Winston Churchill – a good friend of Benjamin and Bridget – became a regular visitor to their Mougins home, spending many a summer’s day and night sitting in their garden painting.

An artist of a different category altogether, Pablo Picasso, was also a friend of the Guinnesses and, like Churchill, became a regular visitor to their home. So taken was Picasso by Mas de Notre Dame de Vie that he eventually bought the house from Benjamin and Bridget’s son Loel.

Picasso’s time in Mougins coincided with the height of his fame and wealth. Although his productivity was slowing down, this period of time coincided with some important artworks from his ‘later period’. Amongst the famous pieces of work produced during his time in Mougins were: The Dance of Youth, 1961; Nu assis dans un fauteuil, 1963; The Chicago Picasso, 1967; and Femme nue au collier, 1968 which was a painting of his wife Jacqueline Roque.

Picasso died at his home of Notre Dame de Vie, Mougins in April 1973. During the evening he and Jacqueline had been entertaining friends for dinner, but he later fell ill. The cause of his death was fluid in his lungs which caused breathing difficulties and led to cardiac failure.

Although Jacqueline Roque was by all accounts not the easiest of women to be with, there is no doubt that she loved Picasso. Unable to cope with the loneliness of life without Picasso, she killed herself. Picasso himself produced over 400 drawings and paintings of Jacqueline during the 20 years they were together. He produced 70 portraits in one year alone. This was more than he had produced from any of his previous relationships, including his time with Dora Maar and Francoise Gilot.

After the death of Picasso’s wife in 1986, Mas de Notre Dame de Vie stood empty for 30 years. Since Picasso’s death, she had left everything untouched in the house – even his reading glasses were still in the same place.

A wealthy Belgian financier bought the house a few years ago and had the renowned interior designer Axel Vervoordt bring the house back to life while equipping it with modern amenities. Using source material from the many Picasso biographies, over 100 people worked for over two years restoring it to its full grandeur.

There was plenty to play with: 2,400sq m of floor space, 1,500sq m of which is the main house. The eight acres of landscaped gardens – now with an infinity pool, a clay tennis court, a gym, spa and hammam – have 500-year-old olive groves, water features, an orangerie and innumerable terraces. The property includes a house for guests and one for the caretaker. He had hoped to sell the property for in excess of US$150 million but was spectacularly unsuccessful and went bust.

Consequently, Picasso’s Mougins house was put up for auction again in 2017, with a starting price of US$20 million. Quite bizarrely, only one bidder turned up; Rayo Withanage, a New Zealand real-estate businessman, who proceeded to back out of the purchase before recommitting at a later date. While the house is now closed to the public, the nearby chapel (Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Vie), viewable from Picasso’s home, and which helped fuel his creative inspiration, remains open for exploring.

A big part of the appeal of this property is also how the small village of Mougins has become a destination in itself since Picasso’s death. When Benjamin and Brigid Guinness first invited Picasso to see the house in the 1930s, Mougins was very much off the French Riviera map. Now, though, it’s a gastronomic destination and has become a popular resting place for the acting elite attending the annual Cannes film festival. The Mougins Museum pays homage to the all artists who have been seduced by the area.

Over the years, Mougins has attracted many figures from art, design and music including Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Yves Klein, César Baldaccini, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel. Catherine Deneuve is also a regular visitor and Elizabeth Taylor used to host her annual AIDS gala in Mougins during the Cannes film festival.

The Notre Dame de Vie chapel just beside the property was first erected in 12th century and is now a listed historic building. It was this chapel that Winston Churchill used to paint time and time again when staying with Benjamin and Bridget Guinness. And the Guinness connection remains through a Guinness family tomb in the chapel’s garden where both Benjamin and Bridget are buried.

Perhaps no other small town boasts such a cultural guestbook as Mougins. And all because Benjamin and Bridget Guinness, on a car ride out of Cannes in the 1920s, fell in love with a dilapidated farmhouse that in turn seduced Pablo Picasso.

Thursday doors #84

Finally, this is my last batch of doors from Mougins village! Did someone just heave a collective sigh of relief?

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #83

No prizes for guessing that we’re still enjoying doors in Mougins village! And, in case you were wondering:

No, I did not photograph every door in the village.

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #82

Would you credit it? We’re still in Mougins village!

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #81

And we’re still in – yes, you’ve guessed correctly – Mougins village!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #80

More doors from Mougins village – I did say it was a fertile door hunting location.

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #79

This is my third batch of doors from a recent trip to Mougins village which proved to be fertile door hunting territory.

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #78

This is my second batch of doors from a recent trip to the medieval village of Mougins.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #77

Here are some doors from our recent trip to Mougins where there were lovely examples at every turn, enough for a couple of weeks!

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Trip to Mougins

Mougins is without doubt one of the loveliest places to visit on the French Riviera. Only 15 minutes by car from Cannes, this charming medieval village is set among pines, olives and cyprus trees, and surrounded by forests.

As soon as you arrive, the charm of Mougin’s narrow streets, bordered by colourful flowers and superb ancient houses starts to seduce you. Picturesque doorways (and doors) with each stone carefully restored, beautifully designed window-frames…… there are delightful details everywhere you look plus, until the end of September, an open air exhibition of animal scupltures by Davide Rivalta, scattered thoughtfully throughout!

Like many of the medieval villages around here, Mougins had been occupied since the pre-Roman period before being eventually absorbed into the spread of the Roman Empire. In 11th century the Count of Antibes gave the Mougins hillside to the Monks of Saint Honorat (from the nearby Îles de Lerins just off the coast of Cannes) who continued to administer the village until the French Revolution. During this period, Mougins was a fortified village surrounded by ramparts. Parts of its medieval city wall still exist as well as one of the three original ancient gate towers (Porte Sarrazine). Viewed from the air, the village resembles a snail, its inner core being the earliest dwellings which date from 11-15th centuries.

On the outskirts of the village, large luxurious properties (aka property porn) hide behind magnificent Mediterranean parks and gardens. Once we’d parked the car, we started our stroll in Place des Patriots, with a statue of Commandant Lamy, one of the village’s famous sons who gave his name to the capital of Tchad, “Fort Lamy,” now “N’djamena”. We stopped to admire the view, which spreads from the Esterel hills to the bay of Cannes and includes the Grasse countryside and the Mercantour hills.

Heading past the various art works, including two magnificent lions and a massive head of Picasso, past the newish Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins – more of which tomorrow –  we head up the hill past the Tourist Office (formerly Picasso’s studio) and the old public wash house (Lavoir) built in 1894, now an art gallery. On the ramparts, across the way, is the former municipal slaughterhouse. The square itself is constructed on what was once Sainte-Anne’s cemetery with a chapel of the same name, which has since been destroyed.

We headed towards the fountain that marks the intersection of avenues de la Victoire and du Commandant Lamy. On the left, restaurant “Au Rendez-vous de Mougins” (a former Hôtel de France) was readying itself for re-opening on 2 June. The restaurant’s first floor contains a room with vaulted ceilings which served as the 15th century court room because a 1438 charter stipulated that the village’s inhabitants would be tried in their own village. On the right, next to the restaurant “Le Bistrot” is the old post office. The building first served as a stable for the olive mill’s horses. The last olives were pressed in 1918 and the site was then converted into a house, whose most famous occupant was Christian Dior.

At the far end of the square, there’s the Town Hall, built in 1618 as the chapel of the White Penitents, it has been used for weddings and by the city council since 1954. It also houses the Espace Culturel and Gottlob Museum., which hosts exhibitions throughout the year. From there, we could easily see the facade of number 41 decorated by the talented painter and portraitist Paul Daemen, who spent his last years in Mougins.

At the corner of rue du Badier and rue des Migraniers is the former home and ceramics workshop of Maurice Gottlob, a rural policeman and well-known regional artist. We followed the wall round to the place du Lieutenant Isnard where the distilleries were once located.  We took a left turn onto the rue des Isnardons, which is flanked on its west side by the cultural centre “Le Vaste Horizon.”

This was where Picasso pitched up one fine morning in 1936 and fell in love with Mougins. Paul Eluard, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray and Rosemonde Gérard soon followed his example, and together they shaped the future of artistic expression. Allegedly, Picasso painted every wall of his room, only to face the wrath of the hotel owner who made the unknown painter cover over his work with white paint the next day. This didn’t discourage Picasso, who much later settled permanently in Mougins, next to the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, where he lived out his last days.

Heading back on ourselves, we take a street incorporated into the fortifications that surround the village, admiring the many art galleries as we once more cross the place du Lieutenant Isnard and rue du Colonel Roustan. During the Middle Ages, this was the end of the route from nearby Grasse, later named after Colonel Roustan, a Mougins hero who lived in the “Santa-Lucia” villa. This villa was also home to such celebrities as Roland Petit, Zizi Jeanmaire, Yves Saint-Laurent and Paul Anka. We then wend our way upwards to place des Mûriers, walking beside the rempart’s remains and watchman’s round tower to reach yet another square.

Number 36, the house where Commandant Lamy was born. there’s an artist’s studio next door. To the right, on the rue du Moulin, is the old oil mill, which was once called the “Moulin Isnard.” It was later converted into a restaurant by the master chef Roger Vergé, latterly of Moulin des Mougins. The decorator Roger Vivier, who also designed the coronation shoes worn by Queen Elizabeth II, oversaw the restorations.

Further along, on the placette de l’Église, we found the only entrance to the village, which is still standing today, Porte Sarrazine. The adjoining house, which I’d previously visited, is now a photography museum, largely thanks to the donations of André Villers. Temporary exhibitions are shown on the first floor. On the second floor, there’s a permanent collection of antique photography equipment, as well as photographs taken of Mougins in 1900. The third floor houses a collection of photographs of Picasso taken by the great contemporary photographers J.-H. Lartigue, R. Doisneau, E. Quinn, D.D. Duncan, S. Roth, L. Clergue, Otero, Denise Colomb, and of course André Villers.

Next up is the church of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, the oldest part of which was probably the former lordships’ chapel of Sainte-Marie. It was built in three phases, starting in 11th century and finishing at the beginning of 19th century. The nearby narrow street once housed many artisans including, famously, the goldsmith Bernardin Bareste. In 1666, he was the only craftsman of his kind in the region and made gold coins for the abbey of Lérins.

All too soon we were back at the car after a splendid trip down memory lane. We couldn’t remember the last time we’d visited but it certainly hadn’t been so blissfully empty!