Maeght Foundation, St Paul de Vence
Set in the pine woods in the hills above St Paul de Vence, the Maeght Foundation is a testimony to the dedication of Aimé and Marguerite Maeght to the world of art. The museum is a unique example in Europe of a private foundation.
If you love art or even remotely fascinated by it, then a visit to the Maeght Foundation in St Paul de Vence is a must. Once through the gates of the Foundation, pine trees stretch out on either side of the path leading to the building’s entrance hall. Manicured green lawns neatly hem the foot of the garden wall, which is covered by a Pierre Tal-Coat mosaic.
Created in 1964, its size is enormous: 44 metres long and 2.20 metres high. It blends so well into the landscape that it is almost invisible, due to the use of earth-coloured tessera. Tal-Coat’s work is inspired by Prehistory and is marked with flint veins, fault lines, witches’ circles. My distraction was caused by several impressive sculptures (on temporary display and which change according to the chosen current exhibition) located in the front of the garden wall and in the middle of the lawn.
The museum consists of two buildings divided by a court of Giacometti bronze sculptures of people.
The collection of modern art is exhibited in rotation in specially designed rooms. There is a lovely garden in which stands the Labyrinth with sculptures and ceramics by Miró and in the chapel of St. Bernard are stained-glass windows by Ubac and Braque.
The Foundation also has a fine bookshop stocked with an excellent range of art books, posters and lithographs as well as postcards and a variety of other souvenirs. More than 250,000 visitors come each year to the Maeght Foundation, which has put on over 100 mono-graphic or thematic exhibitions since its opening. Its library houses more than 40,000 books on modern and contemporary art.
The main parking area is next to the Foundation, nonetheless there are several further down the hill if that one is full but it will mean a bit of a climb back up to visit the museum.
In 1953, deeply distressed following the death from leukaemia of Bernard, their youngest son, Marguerite and Aimé Maeght undertook a trip to the United States on the advice of the artist Fernand Léger. During their stay, in 1955, they visited various American foundations, including the Barnes, Phillips and Guggenheim Foundations. Slowly the idea of their creating a Foundation themselves began to take shape.
At Harvard, Aimé Maeght met the Catalan architect, Josep Lluis Serp, who had worked with Le Corbusier. In 1955, Sert built Joan Miró’s studio in Palma de Majorca and Aimé Maeght was much impressed by the beauty of the site and functional aspects of the building. Together Josep Lluis Serp and Aimé Maeght outlined the first plans for an “ideal gallery” to be built on a unique site on the French Riviera, high above the Mediterranean Sea, near the snowy peaks of the southern Alps.
The starting point for the project was a small, ruined chapel dedicated to Saint Bernard, which they discovered on the Gardettes land, very close to their own property. The couple decided to rebuild it to enable its integration into the overall architecture of the Foundation.
Even before the idea came to Aimé Maeght of creating a Foundation, St Paul was already a chosen spot for artists. They felt much at home in Mas Bernard, built on Marguerite and Aimé Maeght’s property, as well as at La Colombe d’Or, the inn owned by Titine and Paul Roux. After the death of Marguerite Maeght on 31st July 1977, Adrien Maeght, who had inherited the land and the buildings, transformed the long-term lease into a donation. Aimé Maeght died on the 5th September, 1981.
The first shovelful of earth was turned on 5th September 1960. At the outset, the construction work was to be carried out in three stages, staggered over ten years. The phases followed on one after the other without interruption for just under four years. Their aim was not to construct a traditional museum but to build a perfect gallery where works of art could be exhibited in an even, limpid, neutral and natural light. After various models, Sert found the perfect shape that, whatever the position of the sun at different times of day or in the different seasons, light rays reflected off the ground and walls onto the paintings at an angle of forty-five degrees without ever dazzling the eyes of the spectator.
In fact, this is quite noticeable. I’ve now visited the Foundation on several occasions and each time the weather was different and cast a different “feeling” inside. The sunnier the day, the better the light inside – and the more impressive the paintings became. It is almost as if the the Foundation building doubles in size – thus giving an incredible sense of space and volume to both the paintings and sculptures.
Sert chose stone, extracted from the hillside. Brick was used between the stone and the concrete of the walls, a decision which brought the local Clausonnes brickyard back into business. Three hundred thousand pink-sand coloured bricks were hand-shaped and fired in a wood-fired kiln in the local tradition. They were modelled on those of the Villa Hadrinana at Tivoli, near Rome.
On the 28th July 1964, Florence, Isabelle and Yoyo (Marguerite and Aimé Maeght’s grand-daughters) handed a red cushion bearing the keys to the Maeght Foundation to André Malraux, then Minister for Cultural Affairs. And thus was born the first museum of modern art to be built in France since 1936 when the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris had been opened.
Lastly I must mention their very pleasant cafeteria called Café F, just next to the Admission Kiosk as you enter the garden. Prices are sensible and with furniture designed by Diego Giacometti it’s the perfect place to end your tour of the Foundation.
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Fondation Maeght, 623 chemin des Gardettes, 06570 St Paul de Vence
Tel: 04 93 32 81 63
Fax: 04 93 32 53 22
Photography & Filming fee: €5
closes 30 minutes before closing time
Open all year
1st October – 30th June: 10am – 12:30pm and 2:30pm – 6pm
1st July – 30 September: 10am – 7pm non-stop
The Foundation closes at 4pm on 24 and 31 December
Take the A8 motorway then exit #47 Villeneuve Loubet, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Vence coming from Marseille or exit #48 Cagnes-sur-Mer, Vence coming from Nice or Italy. Follow signs for La Colle-sur-Loup/Vence: RD 436.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is located between La Colle-sur-Loup and Vence, 15 minutes from the motorway. When you reach St-Paul-de-Vence continue on the main road which curves and then goes downhill. When you come to the next round-about, make a right turn uphill (the museum is signposted). Once uphill you will see another sign on your left, take this lane until you reach the parking-lot.
From Nice or Cagnes-sur-Mer, bus #400 (Nice-Vence via Saint Paul). If you are visiting St Paul and have time to go to the museum, walk back up to the main road where you’ll find the #400 bus stop. Maeght Foundation stop is the next stop on its route. (Timetable here) If you don’t want to wait, follow the above car instructions out of St Paul de Vence. The walk is about 15 minutes – and is partly uphill – but the views across to St Paul de Vence make it worthwhile.