Monday, March 31, 2014

Ready, Set, Van Gogh!

Three years in the works, the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles will open to the public on Monday April 7th with an inaugural exhibit called Van Gogh Live! 

The Fondation will underscore and celebrate the inseparable link between the paintings of the Dutch artist and the city of Arles, by showing his work alongside the work of contemporary artists. The museum says its goal is to "showcase and promote van Gogh’s artistic heritage while also asking questions about the resonance of his oeuvre in art today." 

The museum is located at the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines,  a 15th-century building elegantly restored by Guilaume Avenard and Hervé Scheider of the architectural firm Fluor, who say that the light of Arles was their “guiding thread.” It's located in the heart of Arles' historic center, a setting classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fondation comprises more than 1000 square meters of exhibit space spread over two floors.

For the city of Arles this is huge and everyone is all abuzz. It does seem like the perfect way to honor the beleaguered artist, who, it is said, never sold a painting in his lifetime and yet, "elevated this town and its surrounding countryside to icons." 

The first show, which runs until August 31st, juxtaposes two separate exhibits. Colours of the North, Colours of the South was curated by Sjraar van Heugten, former director of collections at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It retraces the evolution of Van Gogh's palette from darkness towards "southern brightness" and presents a dozen van Gogh pieces alongside those of his contemporaries who influenced him: Courbet, Pissarro, Monet, Monticelli and others. 

The second part of Van Gogh Live! is an exhibit of nine contemporary artists paying homage to Van Gogh. The artists and the works were selected  by the museum's artistic director Bice Curiger. 

Also to be unveiled on April 7th are permanent installations specially commissioned for the museum's entrance.

Friends who've already been in to see the museum report that it's fabulous...and that the views of Arles from the upper terrace are magnificent.

After living for two years in Paris, van Gogh arrived in Arles on February 20, 1888. During the 14-plus months he spent there, he created a multitude of paintings and drawings, many of which are now considered masterpieces of late 19th-century art.

Tired of the busy city life and the cold northern climate, Van Gogh had headed south in search of the warmth, bright light and colors of Provence. According to his brother Theo, he went "first to Arles to get his bearings and then probably on to Marseille." Van Gogh found in the beautiful countryside of Arles what he had been looking for and never moved on to Marseille.

Around Arles he found the light, color and harmony that he knew and loved from Japanese prints...and he started to paint Japanese-inspired blossoming trees and the Pont de Langlois. In summer he drew and painted harvest scenes.

Painting the human figure had always been one of Van Gogh’s most important artistic goals and he had a special love for peasant paintings. In Arles, he decided that he wanted to modernize this genre by choosing the subject of the sower. He painted portraits and still-lifes as well, confessing to Theo : "I am painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating a bouillabaisse."

In May, Van Gogh rented the famous Yellow House (Maison Jaune), where he lived and worked.  He had hopes of establishing a collective studio in the South, were other painters would join him and in October, 1888, Paul Gauguin came to Arles. The two artists lived and painted together for two months. It was a time of great mutual inspiration but eventually their artistic temperaments clashed. On December 23, 1888, Van Gogh suffered a breakdown and cut off part of his left ear. (Actually a recent theory by two German art historians has it that it was actually Gauguin who cut off the famous ear.) Gauguin left and Van Gogh’s dream of a studio with other painters was shattered.  
He was hospitalized twice in Arles, in the 16th and 17th-century Hôtel-Dieu; he painted and drew its beautiful courtyard, which you can just wander easily into today.  (It's now called the Espace Van Gogh.) Finally he had himself voluntarily committed to the Clinique St. Paul in St. Rémy on May 8, 1889.

During his time in St. Remy, Van Gogh painted another roughly 150 canvasses.  But, writes Van Gogh expert Sjraar Van Heugten, "his style grew less contrasted. His oeuvre would never again reflect the bedazzlement he had experienced in Arles, faced with light and the colours of the South." 

In St. Remy, the Clinique St. Paul is a lovely and very-popular tourist site.  The sections where patients are treated remains closed to the public but you can visit Van Gogh's rooms, read his letters, buy art made by the current patients, enjoy the flowers in a beautiful cloister and see the van Gogh paintings reproduced on panels on the grounds, as part of a larger Van Gogh trail. 

In May 1890, Van Gogh left St. Remy to be closer to his physician Dr. Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise and also closer to Theo. He died in July of that same year, 1890, at age 37. He is believed to have shot himself with a revolver although no gun was ever found.
Writing in his 1984 book Van Gogh in Arles,  Ronald Pickvance said: “Vincent Willem van Gogh...lived in Arles...almost 15 months, over 63 weeks, precisely 444 days. During his stay, he produced some 200 paintings, made over 100 drawings and watercolours, and wrote some 200 letters. The vast majority survive – a prodigal and quite astonishing outpouring, sustai­ning a pace that no other artist of the 19th century could match. This period in Arles is frequently called the zenith, the climax, the greatest flowering of Van Gogh’s decade of artistic activity.”

The connection between the famous Dutch artist and contemporary art was inscribed in the principles of the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh right from its conception, when, in 1983, Yolande Clergue  (wife of photographer Lucien Clergue) , founded the "Association pour la Création de la Fondation Vincent Van Gogh en Arles" and set out to create a collection of contemporary art in Arles which would "pay homage to Van Gogh’s universality." 

In 1988, the collection was presented publicly for the first time, during celebrations for the centenary of the arrival of Van Gogh in Arles. Its development then intensified quickly, both in the quality of its exhibitions (Picasso, Bacon) and in its publications. Today the collection contains major pieces from the worlds of literature, poetry, music, photography, theatrical costuming (Christian Lacroix) and much more. 

In 2008,  the mayor of Arles offered to lodge the collection in a museum at the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines;  the organization finally received state approval in 2010. Work started in 2011 and Bice Curiger,  a world-renowned art critic and exhibition curator, was brought aboard as artistic director the following year. 

Finally, next week it's all opening, ''under the high patronage'' of President Francois Hollande. 

Highly instrumental in bringing the museum to life was board president Luc Hoffmann, the grandson of the founder of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, who bought a large estate in the Camargue near Arles in 1947.  A world-renowned environmentalist and philanthropist,  Luc's lifetime's worth of achievements includes co-founding the World Wildlife Fund,  establishing the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue (which he ran for many years) and authoring some 60 books. 

Luc's daughter Maja Hoffmann--Fondation board member and president of the artistic committee-- grew up between Switzerland and the Camargue. She has devoted her life to continuing the family's philanthropic and environmental legacy but is known above all for her passion for contemporary art.  She's currently president of the International Council of the Tate (London)--and one of the Tate's trustees--and sits on the boards of scores of other top art museums worldwide. She's also a developer and co-owner of a number of popular Arles area hotels and restaurants. 
The new museum is at #35, rue du Docteur Fanton in Arles. For all the info, click here or go to: 

If you'd like to see the Fondation press kit in English, click here.

For info on the self-guided Van Gogh walking tour in Arles, click here.

If you'd like a guided walking tour in Arles, with or without a visit to the Fondation, contact me

For general Arles info, the Tourist Office site is here.

Finally, if you want to read a fascinating article, Van Gogh's Ear: The Christmas Eve That Changed Modern Art, by Adam Gopnik from the New Yorker, click here.

Photos: (1) This is an architect's rendering as the facade is still getting its finishing touches in advance of the opening this week. (2) Museum interiors. (3) The logo and other elements of the museum's visual identity (signage, website, etc.) were designed by Studio Marie Lusa in Zurich.  (4, 5) Van Gogh's Autoportrait avec Pipe et Chapeau de Paille, 1887 and Guillaume Bruere's Untitled are both in the opening exhibit. (6, 7) Van Gogh's La Maison Jaune ('La rue'), 1888, and his April, 1889 painting of the courtyard at the 17th century Hôtel-Dieu (Espace Van Gogh), where he was hospitalized twice. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

You're Invited: Châteauneuf Wine Festival

The Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine festival, now in its fifth year, has become a festive rite of spring for wine lovers from all over Provence. This year's event, the fifth annual, will be Saturday and Sunday, April 5th and 6th, with a special day April 7th reserved for wine professionals. More than 80 wine producers will be on hand schmoozing, pouring and selling...this is a wonderful opportunity to meet local winemakers while tasting their latest releases and a few smashing older vintages. Also, an easy way to buy the wines you love, all in one place, some of them normally quite hard to get. This year, there will also be winemakers from the Northern Côtes du Rhône on hand. 

Three extra-charge tasting seminars ("ateliers degustations") are scheduled but as of today, two were already full; see info on the remaining one here. The topic is pairing Northern Rhône and Châteauneuf wines with cheese, the cost is 30€ and seminar co-organizer Kelly McAuliffe, an American sommelier and wine guide, will be on hand to translate for those who need it.

Les Printemps takes place at the Salle Dufays on the Place de la Renaissance in Châteauneuf, from 10 am to 7 pm both days. Your 7€ entry fee (no charge for seminar-goers) gets you in all weekend and includes a tasting glass. There will be free parking...indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids...and food available on site. For all the info, click here for the event website; you can also call the Tourist Office at 04 90 83 71 08.  For general info about the the wines of Châteauneuf, the village and the region, click here and here

Friday, March 14, 2014

Get a Job, Will Ya?

One of the many pleasures of blogging for me has been getting to know my readers, both virtually and in person.  And over the years I've gotten something of a sense of who you are. I've come to realize that, while many of you are retired and in the ''let's travel!'' chapter of your lives, just as many of you are still toiling away in the working world, be it in France, the US, the UK, Australia or another country. 

And many of you have told me that you'd like to live and work in France one day, whether that means getting a job or starting your own business or moving your business to France or whatever. I hear from people who want to come next month...and next year...and ''one day soon." 

So if that's you...or someone you know...check out this free English-language Paris Startup Job Fair on April 5th. (I meant to share the last one with you but didn't get to it in time.) I know it's short notice for those of you who aren't in France but then again what a great excuse to grab a cheap flight, eh? Startup in this case means young companies such as Bla Bla Car, Deezer, My Little Paris, AppGratis, tinyclues, Invoxia, Bunkr, KelDoc, WeekendDesk.frCarnet de Mode and Mailjet all of whom participated last year. Fifty companies and 750 job seekers were there.

"Rude Baguette is happy to host the second edition of our Paris Startup Job Fair, which saw 100-plus jobs filled in its first edition," says the company's co-founder and editor Liam Boogar. "With unemployment at its highest in France, there are great opportunities for talent to find work in France, where tomorrow's top startups are being born!"

Anyone interested in the ''Paris Tech Ecosystem'' is also welcome at another cool networking event that Rude Baguette is hosting. This one is April 8 and all the details are here. If you subscribe to the Rude Baguette email newsletter, which covers the tech, digital and start-up world in France and elsewhere, you'll get notified about all future industry events, in Paris and other cities.

And while we're at it, here's another European job fair that might interest you. This one is the same day--April 5th--but in Amsterdam. It's sponsored by's more international in scope...and all the info is here.

Photo: The last Paris Startup Job Fair, in September, brought together 50 companies and 750 job seekers. More than 100 jobs were filled.

Monday, March 10, 2014

American Club of the Riviera Invites You...

The American Club of the Riviera hosts luncheons and dinners throughout the year, featuring speakers on timely subjects. If you don't know the group you might think about attending one of their events or even joining up. The ACR welcomes anyone and I hear their events are terrific. The Club has roughly 100 members, about half of whom are American. The rest come from France, the U.K. Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Canada and more. 

The next event is March 22nd, starting at noon. This one will be at an elegant 19th-century manor in Mougins, a few hundred meters from Picasso's last house (which is currently for sale for 150€ million.*) Le Manoir de l'Etang is a hotel set on four hectares, overlooking a small lake. Guests will enjoy a three-course lunch with wine, bottled water and coffee. Afterward, a panel of experts will discuss "Africa Today" and the challenges and exploding potential of what many consider one of the most exciting emerging markets of our time. For more info on this event including profiles of the speakers, your menu choices and more, click here.

Pre-lunch drinks on the terrace are at noon and are included in the event price of 45€ members; 55€ guests. The suggested dress is smart-casual. 

The ACR was founded in 1962 as a successor to the US Propeller Club, an American association formed in 1927 in Washington to support and promote the American Merchant Marines. The club was first based in Marseille, before moving to the Martinez Hotel in Cannes and then to Nice, where it has its HQ today. One of the Club's most popular events is its traditional Thanksgiving luncheon at the Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo, which has been attended by H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco, H.S.H Prince Rainier and all their children. Several American ambassadors and high-ranking military officials have also attended Club events. Today the ACR is one of the most-active associations on the Cote d'Azur promoting the historic Franco-American friendship. The current President is Burton Gintell. The group's next event will be a guided visit at Villa Regina Margherita in Bordighera on April 12, with lunch to follow in a beach-side restaurant.

To RSVP to the Africa Today event on March 22, call Cy Todd at +33 (0)6 17 71 71 70 or click here and register with PayPal, wire transfer or check. 

For general info about the ACR, click here:

Photos: Le Manoir de l'Etang in Mougins will host the ACR's March 22nd event. Chef Mathieu Soler runs the kitchen and his cuisine gets high marks.

*Have a look at the Picasso house, being sold by the Belgian art dealer who reportedly paid between 10€ and €16 million for it in 2007.   Formerly known as Mas de Notre-Dame du Vie, the 35-room villa was Picasso's home from 1961 until his death in 1973.