However, my first impressions of the Fondation Maeght were not favourable; unfriendly ticket office staff, high admission charge (justifiable in view of it being a private foundation), a sad understocked cafe with a corrugated plastic roof, and even the extraordinarily good pieces of sculpture by Caro, Hepworth, Miro and Calder on the approach to the museum seem stranded in a sea of neatly mown grass.
The enlightened clients were Marguerite and Aimee Maeght, astute dealers and avid collectors who befriended many of the great artists of the mid-20th century, and the museum is dedicated to the art of that era. In 1964, they commissioned Catalan architect Jean Luis Sert to design a series of well-lit galleries, visually linking the building to its setting with carefully placed strip windows.
With the passage of time, I can admire Sert’s museum. It is uncompromisingly of its time, white painted wood-shuttered in situ concrete walls and a series of vaulted sculptural concrete rooflights; and although the gallery space is impressively filled with works by Leger, Chagall, Braque, Bonnard and Giaometti, it is his collaboration with fellow Catalan and friend, Joan Miro that provided the greatest surprise for me.
The Labyrinthe de Miro is a small courtyard garden, on numerous levels with a loose gravel surface, and metre high curved dry-stone walls with distinctive white lines painted on the top. The garden court has small rectangular pools fed with pipe spouts in the form of faces. It is set beneath mature pines and with glimpses of the stunning countryside beyond, but without grass and almost without planting.
The wonderful sculpture (- some of Miro’s finest) came first, and the landscaping seems to fit organically and effortlessly around it. This is a master class in garden design, confidant and sensationally good, and proves to me that we shouldn’t be satisfied with the self-conscious and affected trifles served up to us as post-modern and avant-garde garden design. Of course, you have to be a fan of Miro …..
Where 623, Chemin des Gardettes, 06570 St. Paul de Vence, Provence
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