From Pop Art to Narrative Figuration

The Carmignac Foundation, Nice Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Toulon Art Museum, Marseille Museum of Contemporary Art, Villa Tamaris and Musée Estrine in Arles… Welcome aboard for a voyage into the art movements that marked history from the Fifties to current day: Pop Art, New Realism and Narrative Figuration.

Pop Art

Carmignac Foundation

The Pop Art movement emerged in the US in the late Fifties. It was a rejection of classic art forms, considered as elitist. It tapped into popular culture, using everyday objects to appeal to the greatest number. A fervent collector, Edouard Carmignac has compiled a vast contemporary art collection over the years, focusing mainly on American Pop Art: “I was lucky enough to develop an interest in the artists of my youth when they were still affordable.” Lucky indeed! The Carmignac Foundation exhibits two giants of Pop Art: Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, an artist particularly admired by Carmignac and famed for his comic-book style. You’ll find creations by Martial Raysse and Jean-Michel Basquiat – the pioneer of the underground movement and close friend of Warhol – here too. But the tour isn’t over: the foundation also harbours dozens of works by contemporary artists together with a monumental sculpture park.

New Realism

Made In France Pop Art

A spinoff from Pop Art, New Realism emerged in France in the early Sixties. Similarly to Pop Art, its codes and inspiration come from the booming consumer society, but its approach is very different: the artists used everyday objects as raw materials to denounce the absurdity of over-consumption. Arman, Yves Klein, César and Niki de Saint-Phalle, whose works are now shown at the the Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art (Mamac) in Nice, Toulon Art Museum and Marseille Museum of Contemporary Art (Mac), were the forerunners of this rebellious art movement.

Exploring New Realism

Nice Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art (Mamac)

Two major figures of the New Realism movement form the beating heart of the Mamac collection in Nice: Yves Klein and Niki de Saint-Phalle. Nicknamed “Monochrome Yves” for his invention of International Klein Blue (IKB patented on May 19th, 1960), Klein broke away from traditional painting techniques and never used brushes. His “Anthropometry” (ANT84) was created using female models coated with paint (blue of course!), who printed the movement of their bodies onto the canvas. Another icon of New Realism, Niki de Saint-Phalle made an exceptional donation of his fun and colourful work to the Mamac in 2001, including “Nana jambe en l’air”, one of his most famous curvy feminine sculptures. Make sure you stop to admire César‘s “La Dauphine” before you leave – his first compacted automobile created using the compression technique that became his trademark. Don’t miss Ben either, famed for his white texts on black canvas, for whom “art must be both new and shocking to its viewer”.

Toulon Art Museum

Our exploration of the New Realism movement continues at the Toulon Art Museum. The tour is dotted with works by Arman (“Civilisations”), whose work also focused on transforming consumer objects. You’ll find Niki de Saint-Phalle (“Le Monstre”) here too and Yves Klein‘s “Portrait of Martial Raysse”. Klein also used his signature blue for this work. The Toulon Art Museum harbours many other treasures to be savoured without moderation, such as Donal Judd‘s “Progression Blue”, a masterpiece of minimalism and “Le Fakir” by Robert Combas, a trailblazer for Free Figuration.

Marseille Museum of Contemporary Art (Mac)

It’s time to head to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille. The mood is set even before you push open the door: set facing the Mac is César‘s famous “Thumb”, a monumental work towering at a height of 6 metres and weighing over 4 tons. Inside the museum, the works of Niki de Saint-Phalle rub shoulders with those of Jean Tinguely, Arman, Yves Klein and Martial Raysse. Another star of the show: Jean-Michel Basquiat and his canvasses redolent with African and Hispanic influences together with skeleton-like figures, reflecting the artist’s obsession with death. Not to be missed: his iconic “King of the Zulus”.

Exploring Narrative Figuration

Let’s linger longer at the Mac

The Marseille Mac is a great place to immerse yourself in the creative energy of the Narrative Figuration movement that emerged in the Sixties. Shouldered by left-wing and extreme left-wing artists, its inspiration came from current events and the shocking images of the times. One example is “Jumping Rope”, an impressive canvas signed by Alain Jacquet, portraying a giant goat skipping inside a planet. According to the artist, it was inspired by a NASA image that fascinated him: a photo of Earth taken by an astronaut from space. Works by Valerio Adami, Gilles Aillaud, Jacques Monory and Eduardo Arroyo also stand witness to the intensity and imaginative power of the Narrative Figuration movement.

Villa Tamaris

The tour continues in La Seyne-sur-Mer, at Villa Tamaris. Perched on the heights of Tamaris, this vast arts centre with its palatial and refined architecture, opening onto the Med, shows creations by four major names in Narrative Figuration: Jean Le Gac, Gérard Fromanger, Jean-Pierre Pincemin and Philippe Favier. Inspired by everyday experiences, Le Gac described himself as “flawlessly modest but with unspeakable ambition” – a phrase that could well be key to understanding his work. Fascinated by the “artist’s status”, his creations never ceased to depict the imaginary and fantasy life of a painter. De Fromanger, a left-wing militant artist who loved colour, is the man behind the sublime “Bouche à Bouche 2”, portraying two symmetrical rows of colourful musicians’ silhouettes against a black background. Villa Tamaris also pampers us with “Le Grand Livre”, an exceptional work by Philippe Favier comprising 23 pages of drawings and measuring two metres in length. Favier used many different materials in his works and his inspiration for the “book” came from mythical objects and documents: the Bayeux tapestry, the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and Jack Kerouac’s work “On the Road”.


Stop-off at the Musée Estrine

Our tour ends at the Musée Estrine. This gorgeous old mansion house, sporting Provencal architecture, unveils creations by artists from the New Realism movement (César, Klein, Saint-Phalle), together with Narrative Figuration masterpieces. Located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Vincent Van Gogh painted many of his iconic works in 1889-1890, the Musée Estrine is committed to promoting modern and contemporary art inspired by the Dutch master. The museum’s interpretation centre reveals how Van Gogh inspired generations of artists, including Bernard Buffet, Albert Gleizes, André Marchand and Edouard Pignon. Back to basics.