Fondation Maeght

It must be one of the most well placed galleries in Europe.  It perches like a bird at the edge of a high hill that overlooks the valley of cypress trees rising to St-Paul-de-Vence.  The Maeght family and others, among them André Malraux (who had worked for the museums of Chagall and Léger), approached the Catalan architect J.L. Sert in the early 1960s and made invitation to major artists – Chagall, Braque, Miró, Giacometti – to do an outpouring on that height.  I was there in 1972, eight years after the Fondation had been opened.  I have been there again.

Fondation Maeght Museum

I walked from the main road through summer heat up the hill past a herd of tourist buses, through the cool forest.  A stone wall loomed and beyond that the soft green lawns of the museum.  On the lawns (“Keep off the grass” it says tartly in English) are sizeable works by Calder, Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth, to mention some.  Then, among the pines, is the chapel  designed by Georges Braque.  In this intimate, starkly modern space, there are seats for fourteen people.  The crucifix is slender and vulnerable below the blaze of blue and yellow stained glass windows with a dove motif.

I remember the Giacometti courtyard where his most distinctive figures stand thinly to attention or stride thinly.  Above this courtyard are the unusual white U-forms of the roof, inverted domes, that are iconic for the Fondation.  One bears in mind that a Catalan designed this place, coming from the culture of  Joan Miró, Salvador Dali, Picasso and Gaudi are all Catalans, all startling.

Pitchfork by Joan Miro

Further, as you walk along the terrace with its spectacular view, now more overgrown than when I was last there, lurk the quirky pieces made by Miró, like hobgoblins, stringy wood spirits and the gargantuan half-elephant.  They call this his labyrinth.  In a clearing, against the haze of the valley below, is the well-known Pitchfork-balancing-on-a-Wedge that I remember.

Inside, the spacious halls house large paintings by Léger, Chagall and others, works of colourful complexity.  I did not particularly care for the extensive retrospective of Gasiorowski, mainly works from the 1970s – somehow more “easily” flung on canvases than the early modernists, and rather forgettable, I feel.  Perhaps I was tired, perhaps the thick heat of Provence was getting to me.  I stood watching water play on a mosaic of cubist fish designed by Georges Braque.

Down the hill through the cool forest to the road where I would take the ‘bus to Nice… At the crossroads is a giant sculpture, steel planes swirling in an abstract dynamic against the sky.  Is it guarding  the art of Provence?

Will van der Walt ©

Mardi  26 Juin 2012

Image Sources: Photographs by Will 


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