The industrious town of Grasse, the historic centre of the French perfume industry, settled on a steep French Riviera’s hillside. One of prominent fragrance mills was named after the sensual rococo painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), a son of the town who is celebrated with a museum of his works and a Villa Fragonard. In the town’s steep and narrow streets, its walls warmly cloaked in washes of yellow, orange and red, accessible only on foot, some artists have set up studios and galleries.
Motoring on up in the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes mountains, you get to Vence – an historic market town which attracted artists and writers like Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and D. H. Lawrence. Vence’s medieval heart is a labyrinth of narrow streets and little squares, where many artists live today, decorating their house fronts with individualistic flair. One house has no number or name, but a smiling self-portrait instead.
The nearby St-Paul-de-Vence is the epitome of the Provençal hill village turned into art emporium – filled with artists, artisans, boutiques and galleries. St Paul’s artistic appeal led to a major gallery being erected on a pine-forested hillside above the village. The Maeght Foundation is an outdoor sculpture park and indoor gallery in whose design some of the 20th century’s greatest artists collaborated.
In the signature outdoor ensemble, the Catalan master, Joan Miró, set up a series of scary mythological figures in ceramics and concrete, and Braque made a pond in which ceramic fish swim forever. Giacometti had a hand in the sun-beaten courtyard, and it is the Swiss sculptor’s stick-thin human figures in crusty bronze, standing starkly upright or pacing purposefully forward, which make the biggest impression in the indoor gallery, even amid the huge and bright canvases of Chagall, Bonnard and others.
The Maeght Foundation is a wonderland for those who love both 20th century art and the beauty of a pine wood, for the one lives within and accentuates the other. The strange thing is, though, that this unique temple of modern art already feels historical.
Text and photos by Keith Mundy
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