Architecture, art and landscape: Fondation Maeght, the hidden gem of the Côte d’Azur

Sculpture garden at the Fondation Maeght
Image credit: Bianca Callegaro

Isolated in the middle of the pine forests in Provence, just outside the village of Saint Paul de Vence, is the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, France’s most important private art foundation and a world-leading cultural institution. Inaugurated in 1964, the Foundation was established by a visionary couple of publishers and art dealers, who represented and were friends with some of the most prominent artists of the 20th century, including Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti and Marc Chagall. A pioneer cultural organisation, the Foundation was France’s very first private art institution, based on American prototypes such as the Guggenheim Foundation.

The mission to exhibit modern and contemporary art was also coherent with the architecture. The Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert was in charge of designing the Foundation’s complex, creating a space where diverse forms of art could harmoniously coexist amidst the natural landscape typical of Provence. A prominent exemplar of Modernist architecture, the Foundation’s building combines rationalism and Bauhaus with the influence of Gaudí and the Catalan tradition focusing on light and vitality. The result is a unique and timeless place that integrates natural light with archetypal forms, colours and geometries, which perfectly intertwine together creating endless possibilities for visitors and artists alike to enjoy this oasis of beauty, contemplation and dialogue.

Sculpture blends with nature in the huge garden that surrounds Fondation Maeght, its spaces designed through a collaboration of the architect with the exhibited artists. The Catalan artist Miró created a playful labyrinth, where visitors can get lost among the numerous sculptural pieces. Additionally, monumental mural mosaics by Marc Chagall and Pierre Tal Coat can be found in the exteriors, together with a pool designed by Georges Braque as well as a mechanical fountain by Pol Bury. Illuminating the Saint Bernard chapel are stained-glass windows by Braque and Ubac, who also created the extraordinary slate reliefs. The sculpture garden, conceived to present the modern and the contemporary in all its forms, features a rotating selection of works by Calder, Takis, Miro, Arp, which seamlessly interact with the surrounding environment and create the impression of an open-air museum. Particularly striking is the Giacometti Cour, the Foundation’s inner courtyard overlooking the French Riviera which features an exceptional ensemble of sculptures by the Swiss artist. A sculpted head and several walking figures, including L’Homme qui marche (1960), project their silhouettes on the tiled ground, almost like sundials that stagger the passing of time in this Surrealist space.

The Fondation Maeght is one of the largest collections of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper of modern and contemporary art in Europe, owning over 13,000 works. The founders’ will was to dedicate this institution to contemporary art-making and, as such, the curated selection of works exhibited as part of the permanent collection is juxtaposed with a rich programme of temporary exhibitions. Since its opening in 1964, the Fondation Maeght has organised more than 140 international exhibitions, including major themed exhibitions (Living Art in the United States, André Malraux and the imaginary museum, Art in motion, The Nude in the 20th century, Russia and the Avant-Gardes, The Adventures of Truth), monographic exhibitions exploring the work on the great masters of modern art (Kandinsky, Chagall, Calder, Matisse, de Staël, Bonnard, Giacometti, Miró, Braque, Dubuffet), as well as exhibitions of contemporary artists (Yan Pei-Ming, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Takis, Jacques Monory, Gérard Garouste, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Eduardo Arroyo, Lee Bae).

Like a colourful kaleidoscope of shapes and lines, the Fondation Maeght presents important modern and contemporary artworks in a revolutionary way, dismantling the masterpiece from its established museal habitat and freeing it into an open space, liberated from the traditional experience paradigm, allowing the establishment of a connection, a meaningful dialogue with its natural surroundings.

Marc Chagall, La vie (1964)
Oil on canvas, 296 x 406 cm
Commissioned by Marguerite and Aimé Chagall

Published by Bianca Callegaro

Bianca Callegaro is the co-founder, editor and manager of Art Gate blog. She is currently studying History of Art with Film and Television Studies (MA) at the University of Glasgow. She is a columnist for Glasgow University Magazine and volunteers as a museum guide at the Hunterian Art Gallery.