Revisit Fondation Maeght: Jacques Monory

There’s nothing I enjoy more than wandering around an empty museum or gallery, particularly to see an exhibition of an artist with whom I am not familiar. So, after a fine Sunday lunch at quite possibly my favourite restaurant, I popped into the nearby Fondation Maeght to check out their exhibition of Jacques Monory.

Now, I had to do some research on the relatively recently deceased Monsieur Monory (1924-2018) who was a fully paid-up Narrative Figuration (Pop Art) painter. The enigmatic scenes that he painted and juxtaposed form the haunted diary of a painter who regularly questioned the world’s reality. The shade of blue he used made him famous and his signature Monory blue is now a specific colour produced by Marin Beaux-Arts.

Monory’s work was first shown to the public when he was 40 in 1964. The artist was a contributor to the Mythologies quotidiennes exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (Paris). The exhibition marked the birth of a new French artistic movement, Narrative Figuration, in which Monory was one of its most active members.

In 1968, a first series of paintings revealed the singularity of his talent. It was a series of ‘Murder’ paintings, reflecting an obsession with death and a passion for the underworld. The early major works from this ensemble are the most sought after by collectors.

Monory was passionately interested in the spectacular world, with its fictions and its incessant flow of lurid news. His romanesque world was largely composed of existing images and photos he took himself, after having worked for 10 years with Robert Delpire, a publisher specialising in photography. With his keen eye, he amassed a whole repertoire of images, particularly during his travels in the United States.

Monory’s paintings have that frozen-action look… fictions on canvas inspired by Hollywood films, comics and noir fiction. The artist developed an iconography with acknowledged references, similar to the principal players in the Pop Art movement at the same time, but in another vein. His work was a reflection of his era and its major influences, of interest in everyday life and its flow of images, but also a reaction against the Abstract art (which Monory himself tried in his early days before destroying his works) that dominated the art scene in the 1950s and 60s. The artist’s favourite themes also reflect an acute awareness of the world’s violence.

The painter questions himself and he questions us: how do we live in a violent, unreasonable, illogical, surprising and often fake world? This exhibition pays homage to Monory and his work where the scenes he depicts appear to be “narrative” and the composition is said to be “cinematographic.“

The paintings, drawn from photographs, form a collage. The artist explains how and why he manipulates images:

The principle is to take two images, to put them together and to mentally create a third.

I am not seeking painting for the sake of painting, or painting that wants to become crazy about photographic realism. I think that it’s the interaction that interests me.

He elaborates that his use of the colour blue:

When I paint in blue, I enjoy it. It’s blue, it takes me away from what I’m doing. It’s like covering myself in a blue veil. Behind the blue window, a massacre is taking place, and I’m bulletproof. For me, blue is not the colour of fear. It’s the colour of dreams.

All the works in the exhibition are based on photographs taken by the artist though he never considered himself one as such and it was only late in his career, and somewhat reluctantly, that he agreed to an exhibition and a book of his photographs in 2011. He used photography almost instinctively and saw himself more as a painter-filmmaker with a strong penchant for producing situations.

It was a thought provoking exhibition but I’m still undecided as to whether i’d hang one of his works on my living room wall – always the acid test.


Sculpture Saturday #20

This sculpture from Saint-Paul de Vence is by Niçois André Verdet (1913 – 2004) a painter, sculptor, poet and potter who was a contemporary of Picasso.

This challenge used to be hosted by the Mind over Memory blogger but, sadly, she no longer has the time. However, we have been saved by Sally Kelly over at Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition who has most kindly now offered to host.

Share a photo of a sculpture – go on, give it a go, you know you want to!

Thursday doors #69

Today we’re featuring my last batch of handsome doors from our January trip to Saint-Paul de Vence, yet another historic Old Town.

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 #68

Today we’re featuring more gorgeous doors from our January trip to Saint-Paul de Vence, another historic Old Town.

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 #67

Today we’re featuring a few cheeky doors from our January trip to Saint-Paul de Vence, another historic Old Town with some simply splendid doors.

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).

Potted history of Saint-Paul de Vence

When we first moved to the Nice area, we regularly walked around Saint-Paul de Vence’s narrow cobbled streets and bastioned fortifications which hug the contours of the rocky spur on which the village stands, affording fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. In addition, the village plays host to many art galleries and high-end gift shops, along with a number of sites of historic interest which are all fun to browse.

In the past few years, we’ve more regularly cycled past it watching the tourist hordes making their way up the hill from the coach car park to the town’s entrance. It’s pretty much a “must stop” on any coach tour. I’ve lost count of the number of Japanese tourists who have taken my photograph while I’ve laboured up that hill on my bike.

In January, while many of the shops, galleries and restaurants are closed, it’s a pleasure to wander around its beautifully cobbled streets just soaking up the history contained within its ramparts – declared a Listed Historical Monument in 1945 – today, they are the jewel in the village’s historical crown. And what a history!

Way back in the mists of time, an oppidum was erected on the Plateau du Puy. In those days, steeper sites were reputed to be safer. Indeed, there is a whole chain of perched villages overlooking the littoral which I’ll cover in due course. Over the centuries, people set up house around the old church of Saint Michel du Puy and the château at the top of the hill. Thus evolved the “castrum” of Saint-Paul.

In the Middle Ages, the Counts of Provence administered the region and granted several privileges to Saint-Paul. In 14th century, the village became the county town of a bigger district. In 1388, the eastern border of Provence was redefined : Saint-Paul occupied a strategic position and became an important border stronghold the same year the County of Nice switched its allegiance from Provence to the County of Savoy. This modified the eastern border of Provence, henceforth marked by the River Var. Saint-Paul assumed a strategic position in this new political context, becoming a border stronghold of the utmost importance.

Ramparts were erected during the second half of 14th century. Two of the original towers can still be seen: the Porte de Vence, with machicolations (opening between the supporting corbels through which objects could be dropped on attackers) still intact; and the Tour de l’Esperon. In the 16th century, Charles V’s repeated attacks on Provence motivated François I to reinforce Saint-Paul’s defences.

Nonetheless, the armies of Charles V, King of Spain, occupied Saint-Paul in 1524 and besieged the town again in 1536, illustrating its strategic importance on Europe’s political chessboard. In June 1538, when François I came to sign a treaty in Nice, he visited Saint-Paul and decided to have bastioned ramparts erected. The cutting-edge fortifications were designed by Jean de Saint-Rémy, Commander of the Artillery and a fortifications expert, who worked under François I and subsequently Henri II. Four sturdy bastions with French spurs (or orillons) protected the two gates into the town, whilst powerful curtain walls protected the stronghold’s flanks.

Saint-Paul’s church was extended and embellished in 17th century thanks to the efforts of Antoine Godeau – a man of the cloth and a founding member of the Académie Française in 1634 – and donations from the noble families of Saint-Paul. Its sumptuous Saint Clement Chapel decorated with frescoes dates from this period, as does the altar to Saint Catherine of Alexandria with its painting attributed to Spanish painter Claudio Coello.

Influential families such as the Bernardis and the Alziarys had sumptuous mansions constructed in the town. Friezes of leaves and fruit unfurled along their fronts, and inside they were embellished with rococo frescoes, stucco work, and monumental fireplaces and stairways. Yet Saint-Paul continued to play its military role and Vauban came to inspect the ramparts in 1693 and 1700.

Artists first started frequenting Saint-Paul at the beginning of the 1920s. The trail blazers were Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy and Chaïm Soutine. Attracted by colours and light of incomparable richness and intensity, they set up their easels here. Their arrival was fostered by the inauguration of a tramway line between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Vence, via Saint-Paul, in 1911. This opened the village up to the outside world. It was also used to export agricultural produce to Nice, Antibes and Grasse.

The artists enjoyed the company of Paul Roux, a many facetted resident of Saint-Paul – a painter, an art collector and the owner of the Robinson (renamed the Colombe d’Or in 1932), whose walls are still adorned with their paintings even today. Many others followed in their footsteps, including Matisse and Picasso who would call in to see their “neighbours” in Saint-Paul – the former from Vence, the latter from Vallauris and Cannes.

Throughout 20th century, actors, artists and writers made Saint-Paul into a bubbling cultural centre. Some simply passed through, others decided to settle. Each in their own way marked the village indelibly. The 1950s and ’60s were the village’s Golden Age. Saint-Paul became an amazing film set, hosting French and foreign movie stars drawn to the French Riviera by the Victorine film studios in Nice and by the Cannes Film Festival.

For over a century now, Saint-Paul de Vence has been forging its identity as a hub of the arts and culture. Its reputation now extends well beyond the frontiers of the French Riviera, boosted by the famous Maeght Foundation inaugurated in 1964, and the chapel decorated by Jean-Michel Folon, which opened in 2008. I’m so lucky to live nearby.

Trip to Saint-Paul de Vence

Once again I have been unsuccessful in attempting to redress the balance in birthday celebrations. Obviously with mine so close to Christmas and my beloved’s at the end of April, he’s at a distinct advantage. This year I didn’t even get a trip away though we did at least eat in my favourite local restaurant which has fabulous views of the perched, walled village of Saint-Paul de Vence.

The perfectly perched, ancient village of Saint-Paul de Vence is arguably one of the best known on the Cote d’Azur – and even, let’s be honest, in the whole of France.

Located on a rocky promontory 12km (7 1/2 miles) north-east of Nice and enjoying magnificent views along the Riviera, the village is hugely popular with visitors who flock to its meandering streets and shady squares in their millions every year. According to the Tourist Office, in the height of summer, up to seven thousand tourists visit Saint-Paul de Vence every day because of its rich and colourful history. This is abundantly apparent from every cobbled alleyway and fountain in this charming village which towers over the surrounding countryside at an altitude of 180 metres (590 feet).

We decided to take a gentle stroll around the village which harbours countless treasures within its ramparts, exploring its cobbled pedestrian streets and immersing ourselves in its history and heritage starting with its Place du Jeu de Boules beneath the ramparts, at the entrance to the village.

This legendary square is edged with century-old plane trees where the villagers and visitors alike gather. The Café de la Place stands on one side: its terrace is the perfect spot for enjoying the atmosphere. The famous Colombe d’Or is on the other: its regulars included some of the greatest artists of 20th century: Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Folon, etc.

We follow the ramparts, climbing towards the village, and enter by the Porte de Vence, turning right onto Rue de la Tour and following the ramparts southwards to the Porte de Nice. We stop to take in the panorama of Saint-Paul’s countryside studded with vines and olive trees. We pass by the cemetery where centuries-old cypress trees shade the remains of artist Marc Chagall, who spent the final years of his life in Saint-Paul (1966 to 1985). He lies alongside his wife, Vava, and her brother, Michel.

Moving on we take Rue Grande which is choc full of typical village houses and traces of their past splendour – and lots of fabulous doors. Number 71 is a fine gabled 16th century house while, further on, number 92 is the former mansion of the Alziary family.

Now we pass by Place de la Grande Fontaine located at the heart of the village, the former market square before turning up Montée de la Castre. We continue to Place de l’Eglise, the highest spot in the village which is edged with monuments that are the jewels in Saint-Paul’s historical crown: the keep of the former château now the Mairie (town hall) of Saint-Paul, the Church of the Conversion of Saint-Paul constructed between the 14th and 16thcenturies, plus the Folon chapel.

From here we make our way back to the car pausing every so often to look in the window of a gallery or to take a photograph of yet another interesting door for Norm 2.0’s Thursday doors. Saint-Paul is fertile territory. It had been a lovely trip to celebrate my birthday.


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.

Washed out

When we first moved to France, I made a point of thoroughly exploring my new surroundings. Although we’d had a holiday apartment close by for over 2 years, there were still plenty of places we’d yet to visit. I would generally head to my chosen spot on a Wednesday. I can’t recall why I chose this day but maybe because I regarded it as a mid-week treat. I would  arrive in time to enjoy a morning coffee with my L’Equipe in a local cafe in the Town Square before wandering around everything on offer. Some places, because of their size and location, were lumped together. A lot of the perched villages are very pretty and sympathetically restored but a couple of hours will suffice to see their treasures, shops and market. I would also eat out at lunchtime, sampling the daily special at one of the local restaurants. My golden rule, “when in doubt, pick the (only) one with cloth tablecloths and napkins”. Of course, occasionally, none of the restaurants meet this criteria. In which case I plump for the busiest one.

This groundwork stood me in good stead when we had our first visitors. Either I knew where to show them around or I could, at least, point them in the right direction. Guide books are all very well but you can never beat current, local knowledge. Once I took up cycling, I visited these places on a regular basis. Many of them became  focal points in my training plan. Now, pretty much everywhere is accessible. However, it’s foolhardy to cycle around the narrow cobbled, and often steep pathways, difficult to ascend the same in cleated shoes and well nigh impossible to browse the shops and markets with a bike in tow. As a consequence, I have decided to reinstate my days out. Each month, during my “rest week” I am planning to reaquaint myself with some of my favourite places. In the summer it’ll be the shops and markets, in the winter the museums and art galleries.

Last Wednesday, having cleared the administrative backlog, prepared everything for my trip to San Sebastian, made a batch of cakes for La Ronde and tidied the flat, I decided to visit St Paul de Vence and Vence. Two towns I regularly ride past or through but where I haven’t dallied for a while. However, the weather gods conspired against me and it poured down for most of the day. So, I decided to re-visit Foundation Maeght, a centre for contemporary art in St Paul.

The Foundation’s fairy godparents, Aime and Marguerite Maeght, art dealers and friends of Matisse and Bonnard, built the centre near a chapel dedicated to St Bernard in memory of their son, of the same name, who tragically died of leukemia in 1953. The centre was designed by Catalan architect Jose-Luis Sert, a pupil of Le Corbusier and a friend of Joan Miro, as an ideal setting and environment to showcase contemporary art. In addition to its permanent and temporary collections, the whole place, including the grounds, is dotted with little gems from Fernand Leger’s mosaic, Braque’s stained glass window, a mosaic by Chagall, Giacometti’s sculptures and garden furniture in Miro’s labyrinth garden. It’s the sort of place where you can happily while away an entire day. It’s a little oasis of peace. It’s not unnaturally popular with tour parties but they rarely have enough time to appreciate the depth and breadth of the Foundation’s treasures, let alone its garden cafe and extensive art library.

By the time I’d finished browsing, the weather had cleared paving the way for an evening out at one of the free concerts in the next village.These concerts, which are held all around the region in July and August,  are intended to tempt both locals and tourists. You need to arrive relatively promptly to secure a parking space and a seat. I like to grab one on the end, near the back. Then, if the concert’s not too my taste, I can slip away quietly without fear of giving offense. It’s also a good idea to bring your own refreshments. Sometimes there’s a bar close by but often times there’s not. No point in some enterprising soul pitching up with refreshments to sell, the French bring their own: much cheaper.