Changer les idées

Af­ter a fam­ily tragedy, Aimé and Mar­guerite Maeght turned their sum­mer house near Nice into a gallery and haven for artists. To­day, it has one of the best pri­vate col­lec­tions of mod­ern art in Europe.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Wild Things - Text & pho­tog­ra­phy Mary Gaudin

The Maeght Foun­da­tion sits in the hills sur­round­ing Saint Paul de Vence, 30 min­utes from Nice on the Côte d’Azur. The build­ing is strik­ing, but it’s the um­brella pines that you first no­tice on ap­proach. These tall Mediter­ranean trees are far more glam­orous than their Nordic cousins: with their free form, bend­ing trunks and Dr Seuss tops, um­brella pines have some­thing of the sculp­tural about them. Aimé and Mar­guerite Maeght started their foun­da­tion in 1964, not so much as a mu­seum but as a place for artists to work to­gether and ex­change ideas, as well as ex­hibit their work. Aimé was a French gal­lerist, col­lec­tor and pub­lisher and the col­lec­tion as­sem­bled at the mu­seum be­fore his death in 1981 reads like a sur­vey of 20th-cen­tury mod­ernist art. The pieces in the sculp­ture gar­den in­clude work by Henry Moore, Bar­bara Hep­worth, Al­berto Gi­a­cometti, Alexan­der Calder and Jean Arp; inside, there are pieces by Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Ge­orges Braque and Fer­nand Léger. Be­ing a fan of Ellsworth Kelly, it was so good to see his bold paint­ing ‘Red, Yel­low, Blue’, ac­com­pa­nied by a del­i­cate litho­graph out­lin­ing a cy­cla­men, both made dur­ing a stay in 1963. Al­though the sto­ries dif­fer, Maeght Foun­da­tion has some­thing of the spirit of John and Sunday Reed’s Heide Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Mel­bourne. The foun­da­tion was born out of a tragedy in the Maeghts’ lives. Af­ter their youngest son Bernard died of leukemia, Léger per­suaded the cou­ple to take a trip to the United States for a change of scene – ‘se changer les idées’ – where they vis­ited the Phillips Col­lec­tion in Washington and the Guggen­heim in New York. When they re­turned to France, they de­cided to turn the fam­ily’s sum­mer prop­erty in the south of France into an artists’ haven. As Miró’s gal­lerist, Aimé had seen the artist’s vast stu­dio in Mal­lorca, Spain, which was de­signed by Josep Lluís Sert in the 1950s. The Maeghts com­mis­sioned the Cat­alo­nian ar­chi­tect to de­sign the foun­da­tion build­ing. The com­plex, a mod­ernist take on a tra­di­tional Mediter­ranean vil­lage, can be seen as a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Sert, Maeght and Miró. There are clean forms and geo­met­ric ra­tio­nal­ity moulded with white stucco and brick­work. Build­ings open out onto pa­tios and court­yards, and there’s even a bell tower for the chapel. In places, Sert’s build­ing seems to take in­spi­ra­tion from the an­i­mal forms cre­ated by his friend Miró. The huge in­verted arched roof re­sem­bles the horns of a bull, per­haps re­flect­ing their shared Cata­lan ori­gins. These zoomor­phic forms give the Maeght a prim­i­tivist feel. Al­though this roots the ar­chi­tec­ture in a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time, it’s still pow­er­ful and im­pres­sive to­day. On ar­rival, a path leads through a sculp­ture gar­den to­wards the main build­ing. The pines fil­ter light onto a mul­ti­tude of sculp­ture; a col­li­sion of colour and form all vy­ing for at­ten­tion on a fairly small patch of lawn.

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