The Musée Cantini in Marseille, Villa Noailles in Hyères and Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence testify to the exciting creativity of the 20th century art movements that defied established rules and turned art into a playground free of constraints.
The vibrant Surrealist movement…
Let’s explore the offbeat world of the Surrealists at the Musée Cantini in Marseille. Theorized by André Breton, Surrealism emerged in the mid 1920’s and advocated creation without reason or values. During WWII, the Surrealists found refuge at Villa Air-Bel, a vast property erected near the banks of the Huveaune river Marseille, pending the arrival of their American visas in 1941. Among them was André Breton and his wife Jacqueline Lamba, together with Jacques Hérold, Max Ernst, André Masson, Victor Brauner, Wifredo Lam, Max Ernst and Oscar Dominguez. The epicentre of the surrealist microcosm, Villa Air-Bel testifies to the limitless imagination of this group of artists and intellectuals. During their stay at the property, they created the ” Jeu de Marseille”, a card game in which the traditional religious, royalist and military tarot characters were replaced with figures symbolizing their revolutionary spirit and literary heroes, such as Sade by Jacques Hérold, Pancho Villa by Max Ernst, and Freud by Oscar Dominguez. One of Musée Cantini’s most iconic exhibits, these 22 magnificent drawings, donated in 2003, now stand alongside the museum’s surrealist collection, including major works by Miró, Max Ernst (Monument to the Birds), Francis Picabia, Hans Bellmer and André Masson (Antille).
…Bacon, from Fauvism to Cubism, the Transporter Bridge and Gutai group
The museum also welcomes works by some of the 20th-century’s greatest independent artists, including Francis Bacon‘s “Self-Portrait”, donated to the museum by the artist himself, Balthus‘s “Still Life with Lamp”, Alberto Giacometti‘s “Portrait of Diego”, Antonin Artaud‘s nine major drawings and Jean Dubuffet. The Musée Cantini also harbours many treasures from the Fauvism and early Cubism movement in the first half of the 20th century, with works by André Derain, Braque, Raoul Dufy‘s paintings of the Estaque quarter, Picasso, Henri Matisse, Charles Camoin, Auguste Chabaud and Paul Signac‘s “Entrance to the Port of Marseille”. One of the highlights of the museum collection is the series of photos of the Transporter Bridge and City of Marseille seen from the top of the bridge, taken in the 1930’s by the protagonists of a new avant-garde originating in the Bauhaus movement, including Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Germaine Krull, Man Ray and Roger Schall. Last but not least, don’t miss the work of the avant-garde Gutai movement, founded in the Fifties in Japan.
Homage to the avant-garde of yesteryear…
Architect Robert Mallet-Stevens built Villa Noailles in Hyères in 1924, at the request of patrons of the arts Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles. This modernist, art deco-style villa, now a listed monument, pays homage to the avant-garde movement from the Twenties to the Sixties. At the time, Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles were renowned for the wild parties they held for such illustrious avant-garde artists as Alberto Giacometti, whose sculptures are now admired throughout the globe, Jean Cocteau, famed for his extraordinary drawings, and iconic fashion photographer Man Ray. In 1929, Man Ray even shot a film at Villa Noailles entitled “The Mysteries of Château du Dé” – an astonishing experimental work, featuring Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles.
… and today
A mural by Spanish surrealist painter Oscar Dominguez offers fitting testimony to that era of unbridled creativity. A witness to a bygone age, Villa Noailles is also firmly anchored in modern times: in addition to its permanent collection, its year-round events programme focuses on emerging stars in the fields of fashion, photography, architecture and design, with highlights including the International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories, a hotbed of new talent.
Marguerite & Aimé Maeght, an arty soul
Art dealers Marguerite and Aimé Maeght have forever marked the history of modern creation. Their achievements include the world’s first exhibition dedicated to the Surrealist movement, held in Paris in 1947. Around fifteen years later, the duo inaugurated the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where they exhibit dozens of their most-cherished artists, including Joan Miró.
Miró, Giacometti, Calder and more
Miro‘s “Labyrinth”, combining monumental sculptures, architecture and nature, adorns the grounds of the Fondation Maeght. Miró also created a stained-glass window for the Foundation – a deep blue double-glazed panel measuring over 7 metres. Also a ground-breaking surrealist artist, Alexander Calder was strongly influenced by the Parisian avant-garde art scene and famed for his abstract, articulated mobiles. Pause for a moment in front of “L’empennage” and “Les renforts”… Last but not least, immerse yourself in the creative power of Alberto Giacometti: the Foundation houses Europe’s largest collection of his works, including “La Cour Giacometti” – a series of three sculptures initially destined to be shipped to New York.
Guest starring Giacometti
Our artistic voyage continues in the footsteps of Alberto Giacometti, at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. Purchased in the second half of the 20th century by collector Philippe Meyer, the “From Cézanne to Giacometti” series features 19 works by the master of Surrealism created between 1940 and 1969, including paintings, drawings and sculptures. Among them, “L’Homme qui chavire”, portrays a wasted silhouette on the verge of falling forwards, symbolizing life being turned upside down. In addition to Giacometti, the collection features works by Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee and Nicolas de Staël. Wind up your tour with a visit to the Chapel of the White Penitents: a jewel of Aix architecture housing the Jean Planque collection, with 700m² of exhibition space dedicated to Impressionnist and Post-Impressionnist artists (Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas), together with major 20th-century artists such as Bonnard, Braque and Léger.
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
From Surrealism to the Russian Ballet
Our arty tour ends with a visit to the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM), whose collections are shown in two different locations: Villa Paloma, one of Monaco’s finest examples of early 20th-century patrician villas, and Villa Sauber, one of the principality’s last remaining Belle Epoque villas. The magnificent collection of the NMNM includes avant-garde artists such as Jean Cocteau, together with major names from the Surrealist movement including Alexander Calder and Francis Picabia. The collection is also extremely varied, with treats ranging from Claude Monet, the father of Impressionism to Pop Art icon Andy Warhol. A large portion of the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco collection is dedicated to the Russian Ballet, spearheaded by artists such as Natalia Gontcharova and painter-come-costume maker Leon Bakst, who also taught none other than Marc Chagall.