Last year we spent an enjoyable few days in Provence, so we headed back this year. This was more of an artistic trip than a literary one. Before going, we watched one of my favourite actors, Richard E Grant, giving an interesting introduction to the various artists who lived and worked on the Côte d’Azur. Our first stop was to the fairly ordinary town of Cagnes-sur-Mer. However, just outside the town is the Renoir Museum, which was Renoir’s last home. As you can see from the photo above left, it is not a very imposing house and it was not helped by being a cloudy day but we were able to see Renoir’s studio, several of his paintings, lots of photos of him and his family and ceramics made by him and his sons. All of his three sons went on to careers in the arts, Pierre as an actor, Claude as a ceramic artist (some of his ceramics were on display) and Jean as one of the great film directors. I have seen around twenty of his films and all are superb, still very much worth watching.
Vence was another town which did not impress us much but, just outside it, is Matisse’s chapel. Matisse built it on a plot of land he purchased and fully decorated it, as thanks to the Dominican nun who had looked after him while he was sick. He designed everything himself, even though he was in his late seventies at the time. He said it was his masterpiece and it would be difficult to argue with him on that point. The stain glass windows are stunning, as is the simplicity of the design of the chapel. Those who live in the UK may well be aware of an important exhibition of Matisse cut-outs at the Tate. Tate director Nicholas Serota, who curated the exhibition, was inspired by his visit to the chapel.
Of course, another famous artist associated with Provence is Van Gogh. We did visit Arles where Van Gogh lived for a time but his famous yellow house was destroyed in World War II and there is not much else to see associated with him. However, we also visited Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh spent a year in the Saint Paul Asylum which is still very much extant and located just next to the Roman site of Glanum. You can still see such much of the scenes that Van Gogh painted, including the lily beds (sadly it was past lily season), the olive trees, the garden and various parts of the hospital which, apparently, have changed little since Van Gogh’s day.
Though there was not much to see in Arles related to Van Gogh, as well as the various Roman remains, there was also my favorite publisher in the whole world, Actes Sud. I have some seventy Actes Sud books in my library (and acquired a few more, as they have an excellent bookshop in Arles, as you can see in the photo to the right). What makes Actes Sud special, apart from their unusual location, is that they publish not only innovative French works but also translations from many languages, including many fine works that it would be impossible to read, unless one spoke far more languages than most people could ever hope to master. I spent far too much time in the bookshop and, probably, far too much money but it was a good way to end a most enjoyable visit.