We took an artistic detour from Impressionism and into more contemporary conceptual art yesterday with a trip out to Château la Coste. This estate started viniculture in the 1600s, but has been the site of grape growing since the Roman era. Purchased by a Irishman around 2000, the new owner renovated the winery and slowly developed a destination vineyard. Drawing from some of the finest architects and conceptual artists from around the world, there are approximately 20 works along a walk that winds up a steep hill to a Tadeo Ando chapel, then back down an ancient canal to the vineyards below. We found this walk to be invigorating, both physically and intellectually. The works are varied in size and impact, but are all perfectly suited for each piece’s place along the hillside, which was chosen specifically as the site for his/her work by the artist. As stated on their website, “Château La Coste is now seen as a place where vineyards, art and architecture are freely expressed.” Cyd and I agree with this opinion and we found the whole art juxtaposed with a stellar vineyard and dining experience to be a breath of fresh Provençal air and a timely break from our immersion into Impressionism.
After our stroll up and down the hill and interacting with the artworks, we had a delightful lunch at the café located in the Art Center (also designed by Tadeo Ando), which was accompanied by a long discussion about the estate with the sister of the owner, Mara McKillen. David Galloway called Mara, “the true voice, and perhaps even the soul, of Château la Coste” (Art News, 2012 Dec 26, Fruits of the Vineyard). We found her to be a lovely and pleasant person, who is very passionate about the Château, its wines, its art, and its place in Provence. When we told her our landlord, Jean-Philippe, had highly recommended the art walk, she sent him a nice bottle of Rose and threw one in for us, as well. How nice was that? The bottle of Premièr Cuvée Blanc we had with lunch was very good, so I picked up another two bottles at the Wine Shop to enjoy later this week as we unwind from our busy days in our flat. Daniel at the admissions desk told us the walk along the path could take 2-3 hours. We took 3 hours since we spent quite a bit of time at each piece walking around it and interacting where possible, but I really could have spent all day up on the hill, it was that good. We highly recommend the Château la Coste to anyone who is within 100 kilometers of the vineyard and up for a fairly strenuous walk up and down the hill. Keep in mind to leave sufficient time in your stay to enjoy a very good meal at the café. We will certainly return on our next trip to Aix-en-Provence to see how the artwork is developing, to see the new works that are being developed currently, and to enjoy some more of that fine French wine.
Our cab back to Aix-en-Provence arrived right on French time (which would drive my fellow Road Dawg, Darren, totally berserk) and we had a great ride back into town talking with our driver, Pascal, who told us all about his trip to Florida and his plans to go to New York City next year. Of course, he had to frequently call his wife, Sylvie, to translate to Miss Cyd for him, but all-in-all, it was great fun! Jean-Philippe had also set up the cab ride and we got a very favorable tariff for the round-trip to the Château. So we set up our cab ride with Pascal from our flat to the TGV station for our return to Paris on Sunday. It’s hard to believe we have been in Aix over a week already, the time is just flying by.
Today, however, we leapt back into the Impressionist world with a couple of sidesteps into antiquity and Modernism through a visit to the Musée Granet and its sister facility, the Chapel of the White Penitents (aka Granet XXe) a few blocks away. The main museum had an interesting collection of Roman artifacts including some interesting mosaics and a large collection of early 16th to 18th century art. It was rather amazing that they had the Flemish Masters down in the crypt, with a self-portrait of Rembrandt down at the end of the line of Rubens, Van Dykes, and other Flemish artists. We saw this same nationalist dynamic at the Uffizi in Florence, when our guide told us at the end of the Renaissance tour, “Well, we have a few Flemish works in the second floor gallery if you want to go see them” and we found the same thing, with numerous works by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Memling, among many others, just kind of stuck on the wall because they were not native artists. Oh well, it was all good. We actually liked the Chapelle better as it contains the collection of Jean Planque, a Swiss art collector and dealer who collected works by Cézanne, Picasso, Berger, Klee, along with many other Cubists and Modernists. I liked the Hans Berger exhibition on the second floor with his heavy brush strokes and thick applications of paint. In particular, his paintings of a railroad and an olive grove were intense and effective and spoke to me. I may have to try that impasto style at some point. I have done some similar heavy applications in acrylics using acrylic paste as a structural medium, but that technique was more deployed for emphasizing focal points than for an entire painting. Berger posed a very interesting style to me.
During a great lunch at Maison Cangina on the walk over to the Chapelle du Penitentes Blanc, we met a very nice young man named Sebastian. He speaks Danish, English, Spanish, but he is taking a break between earning his BA in Economics and starting grad school in Denmark to live and work in France to improve his French language skills. It really is impressive to see how the education system in Europe seems to be predicated on individual initiative and learning, instead of sitting in a class all day and expecting an “A” just for showing up. We learned a new French word today from Sebastian, our soup du jour was “Velouté de Courgettes” which is Zucchini soup and it was a killer soup. It set the stage perfectly for our entrees and the dessert of raspberry and strawberry tarts set in perfect pastry shells.
We stopped by the Sainte-Jean de Malta church next to the Musée Granet and got there just in time for the noon mass. It is a small parish church. The choir and the priest were excellent singers, so the musical parts of the mass were astounding to hear in this building. An interesting note here is the church bells were confiscated by Napoleon in 1793 and melted down for cannons to support the siege of Toulon. The church has raised enough money to cast three new bells based on the design of the old bells, but is currently working on a subscription to hang them in the belfry. The bells are hanging inside the nave with signs that tell the story of the bells (Fortunately, I am getting to the point where I can make sense again of written French, but I am still hopeless when trying to carry on a conversation. Miss Cyd is much better, so between her French and fluent Spanish, we are getting by quite well.) I reached across the barricade and tapped the two on the left. Very pleasant tones, so I hope the parishioners raise the funds soon as they will sound very good once they are pealing out the call for mass and vespers from the belfry.
Tomorrow, I plan to get up early and hike back up the hill to the Jardin des Peintres to work on a rendition of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the same spot where Cézanne painted most of his paintings of the mountain. We saw a piece in the Chapelle today from the Planque collection that showed several artists, including Cézanne, painting that scene. So, after our detour into site-specific conceptual art yesterday at the Château la Coste, I’ll be back in my Channeling Cézanne mode tomorrow.
Joe and Cyd