Beautiful painted interiors in The South of France for Art Lovers
1) Chapelle Folon
The Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon created eight paintings, a monumental mosaic, four stained-glass windows and two sculptures for the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. He completed the designs shortly before his death in October 2005, after which they were carefully executed by craftsmen. The Chapelle Folon, which opened in 2008, is a Gesamtkunstwerk that showcases what a versatile artist Folon was. Here you step into his poetic, colourful and light-filled world. Folon’s work is a tribute to mankind and to humanity. In all these works, he emphasises giving and sharing, and the importance of dreams and poetry.
2) Fondation Carzou
You may blink at the sight that meets your eyes when you enter the neoclassical chapel in Manosque, whose walls are painted with a contemporary Apocalypse. It took the French- Armenian painter Jean Carzou (1907-2000), born Karnik Zouloumian in Aleppo, six years to complete his life’s work. He has painted the fall of mankind against a vivid blue-green backdrop, including references to the two World Wars, genocides and dictators, environmental pollution, nuclear plants and industrialised society. But there is a glimmer of hope, nonetheless: Carzou also painted the tree of life and the renaissance of earth.
3) Chapelle Cocteau
In 1960, the artist Jean Cocteau was asked to design a chapel for a new neighbourhood that was scheduled to be built to the north of Fréjus. Unfortunately, the plan was abandoned following the untimely death of the urban planner. Cocteau’s sudden death in October 1963 also threw a spanner in the works. The chapel, which is tucked away in a forest, remained unfinished and forgotten, even though Cocteau had produced 150 (!) sketches for its decoration. The murals, featuring the Passion of Christ, were executed by Édouard Dermit, Cocteau’s adopted son. In 1989, the city of Fréjus acquired the chapel and had the octagonal building restored, after which Cocteau’s grand design could finally be completed. Six lustrous mosaics featuring Old Testament scenes adorn the outside walls. The three monumental chapel doors, with six stained-glass windows, refer to the Crusades. A colourful Gesamtkunstwerk, in Cocteau’s distinctive fluid style, right in the middle of nowhere.
4) Hôtel de Ville - Salle des Mariages
Jean Cocteau discovered the sunny Mediterranean charm of Menton in the 1950s, during his on and off stays in the villa of his rich admirer Francine Weisweiller in nearby Cap Ferrat. Cocteau therefore leapt at the opportunity when the then mayor of Menton asked him to create murals for the new marriage room in the town hall. From April 1956 until March 1958, Cocteau singlehandedly decorated the walls and the ceiling with his designs, taking inspiration from the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice on the one hand and adding exotic characters, brimming with joie de vivre, on the other. He executed his paintings in a colourful, graphic style, with elegant arabesques and clean lines, which he dubbed ‘le style de Menton’. Cocteau also designed the bright red chairs, the cast iron ‘palm tree’ floor lamps and the wall-to-wall carpet with a panther pattern. The marriage room has a joyous, cheerful feel to it. Request the keys to the room at the town hall’s reception desk. With a bit of luck, you’ll have it all to yourself.
5) Musée National Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso painted two large allegorical representations of war and peace for the 12th-century Romanesque chapel of the museum in Vallauris. He did this in 1952, just after the end of World War II, when world peace was under threat because of the Cold War and nuclear weapons. Picasso created two monumental murals, each measuring 4,70 by 10,20 metres. These two powerful masterpieces hang opposite each other in the rather small barrel-shaped chamber. Black (death) and red (blood) are the dominant colours in the War mural, in which the symbols of civilisation, including books, are destroyed. The colour palette of the Peace mural, on the themes of harmony and fertility, is more vivid, with people dancing and playing music. You can see the sculptures, bowls and platters that Picasso mainly created in Vallauris in the adjoining Musée de la Céramique.
6) Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pêcheurs
The French poet, film director and artist Jean Cocteau (1889- 1963) is everywhere on the French Riviera. He created several artworks in Menton and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. His first chapel can be found in Villefranche, however. This ‘fishermen’s chapel’ probably dates from the 16th century. By the 1950s, it was used as a storage for fishing nets. Cocteau, who had already spotted the chapel in the 1920s when staying at the nearby Welcome Hôtel, lobbied hard for its restoration from 1956 onwards, painting the interior and exterior of the building. The walls are decorated with scenes from the life of Saint Peter, to whom the chapel is dedicated, in Cocteau’s distinctive ‘cartoon’-like style, supplemented with paintings of local fishermen’s wives, musicians and friends, including one of his many patrons, Francine Weisweiller.
7) Villa Santo Sospir
With more than 200 drawings (or ‘tattoos’ as Jean Cocteau called them) on its walls, there’s no denying that Villa Santo Sospir is a Gesamtkunstwerk. The artist met the then owner, Francine Weisweiller, in 1949, when he was shooting his film Les Enfants Terribles. Nicole Stéphane, who was a niece of Francine’s husband Alec Weisweiller, played the female lead in the film. Francine invited Cocteau to come stay with them at Villa Santo Sospir. Inevitably the artist felt bored and asked whether he could trace a drawing on the white wall above the fireplace. He ended up drawing the head of Apollo, the Greek god of art and music. Ultimately, Cocteau would cover all the villa’s walls with his art. In 1952, he made a 35-minute documentary about the house, titled La Villa Santo Sospir. Eight years later, the villa also had a role in his feature film Le Testament d’Orphée (1960). Currently the villa is closed for restoration. It is scheduled to reopen in 2022.
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The South of France for Art Lovers is one of the spin-off titles of The 500 Hidden Secrets series of essential city guides. This guide focusses on one particular aspect of the region of the South of France.
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