Tag Archives: Marc Chagall

Sojourn in the South of France

21 Jul

Ridiculous as this may seem, it is nearly a month since I went to France and this is the first chance I have actually had to sit down and properly reflect on my trip – apart from my usual frantic running around I have had a particularly bad bout of sinusitis and an allergic reaction to a wasp sting that then became infected.  The medication has exhausted me and I’ve had a huge amount of work to do in the crazy run up to the Edinburgh Fringe.  So, apologies to all my regular readers but now I’m back!

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The rooftops in Mons. Own photograph.

Mons is a village nestled high in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, seemingly isolated in the middle of a picturesque nowhere.  The village doesn’t seem to have changed in centuries – accessed only by hairpin bends that climb the mountains, its streets are narrow and imbued with character.  Mons forces you to relax and the Art Lover’s House is the perfect place to do this.

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Narrow streets in Mons. Own photograph.

This no ordinary house, it is also a gallery but it is available to rent and you can spend a holiday surrounded by an eclectic mix of work in all media.  There are sculptures dotted in the maze-like corridors, vibrant paintings, photographs of cityscapes, charcoals of changing landscapes with never-ending rows of Venetian gondolas, abstract nudes, pieces of ironwork and a wonderful collection of vintage Olympic Games’ posters at the very top of the house in a room overlooking the entire valley and mountainous landscape.  The horse’s head near the cave looks like a ruin amongst the gravel but is perfectly placed to surprise you every time you turn the corner.  One little ledge of a twisting staircase reveals a chair and a pair of boots tucked behind glass – maybe for the house’s ghost or for the resident artist to return to his perch after a day exploring the rugged landscape.  There’s something here for everyone and if forced relaxation doesn’t work for you there’s plenty to visit nearby as I found out.

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Art Lover’s House. Own photograph.

Nearby Seillans makes the hills in Mons seem very slight indeed.  Accessible only by foot, it was the home of Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in the ’60s and ’70s and it now hosts a quirky Max Ernst museum above the tourist office, open in the afternoons.  Ernst first discovered Seillans when visiting Patrick Waldberg and, aged 73, he fell in love with the sleepy village.  He moved there with Tanning and remained there for the last 12 years of his life.

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Seillans. Own photograph.

I paid my two euros to ascend the stairs and what I found was a surprise.  There are no attendants in the exhibition area itself; in fact, you have to turn the lights on and off yourself.  And why not?  I think this is rather a sensible and economical idea.  Although I imagine there are times in the summer when Seillans is busy, they certainly do not need to man this space full time.  On display are, mainly, lithographs intended as illustrations for the works of Surrealist friends but this is not a bad show for a small museum.

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Inside the Max Ernst Museum.

Even today, Seillans is a very artistic town with galleries throwing open their doors on every street.  One such space is The Orange Tree Gallery – part of Tessa and Nigel Cox’s house – which is filled with light and a wonderful orange tree growing in the middle (a couple of fake oranges have been strung onto the branches, adding to the charm and mystique of the space).  Tessa is the artist in residence and, as well as displaying her own works, she is very welcoming to visitors having a nose around her studio.  Considering the amount of cats I had seen in this area, sadly we didn’t meet their famous black cat who can be spotted in most of the publicity shots of the gallery.

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The Orange Tree Gallery. Own photograph.

As we had a late flight home, we made the most of the day by visiting Antibes on our way to Nice.  Located on a completely stunning stretch of coast, Antibes is home to the Picasso Museum which is housed in the Château Grimaldi, built on the foundations of an ancient Greek town.  In its time it has been the Grimaldi family home, the town hall of Antibes and for six months in 1946 it was home to Pablo Picasso.  During this time he produced paintings and frescoes that still remain there.  Part of what makes the museum so special is Picasso’s inherent connection to the building that you can still feel even to this day.  The collections holds around 250 Picasso works of varying quality and many of the lesser-known works deserve particular note.  The collection is a joy to behold but not too big so as to overwhelm.  I took a couple of people with me who don’t have my enthusiasm for art and they found themselves swept away.  The museum’s location makes it particularly special; standing in the sculpture courtyard overlooking the perfect blue sea of the Côte d’Azur is magical and presents the sculptures in an entirely new framework.

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The sculpture terrace. Own photograph.

The museum also has a modern and contemporary collection which, sadly, was largely closed for a rehang during my visit but this allowed me to truly focus on the Picasso.

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Closed at the Picasso Museum. Own photograph.

Moving on to Nice itself my first stop was the Chagall Museum.  I’m a Chagall fan anyway but seeing his works en masse in this specially-designed space was mind-blowing.  Everywhere I turned there was another work of exceptional quality.  Chagall creates another world, a richly emotive setting of Biblical and imaginary figures who wander from canvas to canvas through his ever-shifting landscapes.  The museum was built in close collaboration with Chagall himself; its simple interiors within a highly complex architectural structure are full of spaces flooded with natural light.  Chagall’s Biblical Message, a cycle of seventeen large-format paintings, forms the heart of the collection and is on permanent display.  Chagall felt that his paintings provided a commentary on biblical texts – one that you can appreciate and understand regardless of religious convictions.  The museum is the perfect setting for these perfect works.

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Chagall’s Biblical Message on display. Own photograph.

A concert hall, where a film about Chagall is currently being shown, is lit by three exquisite stained-glass windows showing the seven days of Creation.  The windows are remarkably abstract with only the middle window containing substantial recognisable figurative elements.  Just when you think there can’t be any more you stumble across a mosaic on an outside wall above a pool.  If you only want to see one thing in the area this museum would have to be my recommendation.

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The outside mosaic at the museum. Own photograph.

The Matisse Museum didn’t overwhelm me in quite the same way and the collection was easy to walk through without as much devotion to the individual works on display.  The permanent collection seeks to look at the artist’s development and his experimentation and includes objects that were in his possession throughout his career.  It’s also up a very long hill so I don’t recommend being brave and walking up or down.  There’s a very good bus that goes from the Chagall to the Matisse but, unfortunately, I didn’t find the right bus stop to get back down and ended up walking for miles.  To celebrate its 50th anniversary the Matisse Museum has mounted an exhibition looking at the theme of music running through Matisse’s career, particularly linked to his presence in Nice.  While music may have formed part of Matisse’s everyday environment I didn’t feel this was conveyed by the exhibition itself.  The pamphlet tells that each of his children played an instrument, that his paintings portray various musical instruments and that, in the 1920s, he produced numerous paintings of Henrietta at the piano.  He paints instruments in the way others may paint a portrait.  But, here, his passion is somewhat diluted.  The villa in which the museum is housed is particularly striking – an imposing building in 17th century Genoese style with a red-ochre façade overlooking the nearby Roman ruins and the olive grove that stretches out in front.

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The Matisse Museum in Nice. Own photograph.

I always find visiting the South of France to be special.  Every time I head in that direction, I visit something new whether it be a large museum, an artist’s studio or an unexpected commercial gallery hidden in a maze of cobbled streets.  I can’t wait to go back, it’s just a case of finding the time.

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For more information about all the places I visited see: http://artlovershouse.com/, http://www.theorangetreegalerie.com/, http://www.antibes-juanlespins.com/les-musees/picasso, http://www.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/ and http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/.

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Motorways, Mexicans and Cathedrals – Pallant House Gallery

13 Jul

Pallant House’s new exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera called for a trip down to Chichester, so early yesterday morning I set off on another Mini adventure.  Sean the satnav (I just love his Irish accent) seemed to think I was on a tour of English motorways and I went on more than I care to count to get to Sussex and back.

For many, Kahlo and Diego are inseparable but this is the first UK exhibition that brings their works together.

Kahlo is such a feminist icon and her self-portraits became familiar to many during the Tate retrospective in 2005 (so enduring that it seems like only yesterday).  Presenting a challenging view of the female role, her works address issues of pain, betrayal, loneliness, love and heartbreak, throughout the emotional turmoil of her life.  Rivera’s most famous works are his large-scale political murals – less familiar as, by their very nature, they remain in situ in Mexico.  During their lives, Rivera was recognised as the greater artist, his commissions adorning public buildings, but, in death, Kahlo has far outshone her husband and it is she who has become a cult figure whilst many have never heard of him.

Diego Rivera, Landscape with Cactus, 1931. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

This is a rare opportunity to see Rivera’s works: striking beautiful pieces with strong use of line.

Their relationship has attracted much attention – Kahlo was half Rivera’s age when they met, a delicate cripple attracted to this philandering beast.  The two could not have been more different and Kahlo’s parents even described their union as a “marriage between an elephant and a dove”.  This exhibition lacks biographical information (in fact, the wall labels consistently present inaccurate information), assuming we already know the horrific tale of how Kahlo was involved in a trolley-car collision which caused her spinal column and right leg to smash, her ribs, collarbone and pelvis to break and her foot to dislocate and then be crushed.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Bed, 1937. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

There are two arguments as to whether or not this exhibition works at all.  Judy Chicago, renowned artist and author of a terrific new Kahlo book, argues that it is appalling to exhibit both Kahlo and Rivera together, saying this parallel showing continues to place Kahlo in the shadow of her husband.  Chicago wants us to see Kahlo as central rather than peripheral.  While viewing her in relation to Rivera we are somehow diminishing her excellence.

On the flip side is the curator’s argument that it is nearly impossible to view one without the other because they were so united.  Rivera was important to Kahlo, featuring in many of her paintings.  She once said “Diego was everything … my child, my lover, my universe.”  Well, considering this, then, of course, the two should be shown together.

Frida Kahlo, Diego in My Thoughts, 1943. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Both Diego and Kahlo were inspired by each other.  For Kahlo painting was a form of catharsis, a motivation to rise above her pain.  Rivera encouraged her to continue working in spite of the misery it sometimes caused her; he was essential in the success of her endeavours.  In turn, Rivera was motivated by Kahlo’s courage.  They both thought the other to be the greater artist.  They were both spurred on by each other’s love and devotion.

Now, I don’t like sitting on the fence but I genuinely think each of these arguments raises good points and both are correct.  There are huge contrasts in their artistic styles yet there are many overlaps between their works.  It is an inescapable relationship and, one that, in many ways, does necessitate them being shown side by side.

For me, this is where the exhibition fails.  The works are not shown side by side.  The exhibition opens with a small, single room of Rivera’s works (on blue/grey walls for a boy) and is followed by two Kahlo rooms (pink/red for a girl).  For me, the point of the exhibition is for comparison.  These works were painted side by side so let them be seen together.  In particular, the exhibition includes both artists’ portraits of Natasha Gelman – an obvious and simple pairing that doesn’t happen.

Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Natasha Gelman, 1943. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

The exhibition is supplemented by an interesting selection of photography including Nicholas Murray’s emblematic images of Kahlo with her monobrow and moustache – iconic and beautiful in her own unique way.  Also exhibited are the rarely-seen photographs by Kahlo’s father showing the area around Mexico City and Tepotzlan.

Nicholas Murray. Image via http://yercle.wordpress.com.  

The exhibition offers a glimpse at Kahlo and Rivera’s fascinating relationship but doesn’t quite delve deep enough.  One more room may have sufficed but the size of the current show is slightly disappointing – only 40 works in all.  For a small show, it’s strong with well-chosen works.  Would I recommend a two hour drive from London and an entrance fee?  If you’re a Frida fan then yes.  If not, you may not see enough to whet your appetite.

The Pallant House Collection includes such greats as Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, Jann Haworth, Antony Gormley, Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Walter Sickert and Barbara Hepworth.  There’s even a nice (if slightly random) room of 18th century portraits upstairs.  Contemporary has successfully been mixed with this traditional 1712 Queen Anne townhouse.  Pallant seems to have a strong history of commissioning artists with Spencer Finch’s light installation, The Evening Star, currently hanging in the main stairwell.

Spencer Finch, The Evening Star. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

Elsewhere in Pallant House there are some wonderful temporary shows including Mervyn Peake’s exhibition of drawings and illustrations and Anna Fox’s newly-commissioned series photographing the Bognor Regis Butlins to celebrate their 75th anniversary.  These oversaturated large-scale photos provide an insight into today’s Butlins.  The holiday camps first opened in 1936 becoming a much-loved part of British culture and a popular holiday destination for working-class families – only three now survive.

Anna Fox, Ocean Hotel Restaurant, Butlin’s, Summer 2010. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

This trip afforded me an opportunity to once again indulge my love of Cathedrals.  Work commenced on Chichester Cathedral in 1076 – it isn’t one of Britain’s finest but does boast a beautiful Chagall stained glass window.  Reaping the benefits of natural light, Chagall worked with intense colours that inspire and stimulate.  The Cathedral is significant – the detached bell-tower is the only one of its kind remaining in England and the spire has been much admired.  Unfortunately, as with so many of our great churches, the Reformation brought much destruction and some of the Cathedral’s former glory was diminished.

Marc Chagall stained glass window at Chichester Cathedral. Own photograph.

Moving out of Chichester we headed to Pagham Harbour for the night and stayed at the wonderful Crab & Lobster.  I can’t sing the praises of this pub-hotel enough.  I had planned a walk across the marshes but luckily the barman pre-warned me that the nature reserve of marsh and swampy mudflats is mostly smelly quicksand.  I stuck to the footpath!

Marshes and mud. Own photograph.

Before heading home this morning, there was time to fit in another Cathedral.  With Winchester being so close, I couldn’t resist.

Winchester Cathedral. Own photograph.

A stunning Perpendicular Gothic building, Winchester Cathedral is an overwhelming space, thanks, in part, to William Walker, a heroic diver, who worked for years underwater to strengthen the submerged foundations.  The building has a fascinating history: the West Window was destroyed by parliamentary troops during the English Civil War and rebuilt using the shattered glass found around the Cathedral.  As well as being architecturally wonderful, Winchester has two big draws – Jane Austen’s grave and, surprise surprise, a Gormley sculpture in the crypt.  Sound II is a mysterious lead and fibreglass life-sized man who contemplates the water that he holds in his cupped hands.  But, the crypt only floods in winter so sadly the water element of this piece is missing for six months of the year.  It does, however, work beautifully in this space.  Gormley and Cathedrals – tried, tested and triumphant!

Antony Gormley, Sound II. Own photograph.

And all in 24 hours.  I made it back for a trip to the RA in the afternoon but more of that in my next post…

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection is at the Pallant House Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.pallant.org.uk.

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