hotel de caumont exteriorAn elegant 18th century hôtel particulier in Aix's historic and aristrocratic Mazarin Quarter, the Hôtel de Caumont has been converted into a sumptuous new gallery space under the banner of the Caumont Centre d'Art. logoClick here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence



The first stone was laid on this site exactly three centuries ago, in 1715, and it was to become one of the largest and most lavish of Aix's bourgeois houses.

But the Caumont Centre d'Art is really much more than an art gallery. The house itself has been stunningly restored: it's one of very few 18th century hôtels particuliers in town which is open to the public.

And, unusually for a private residence right in the heart of Aix, it has large and lovely formal French gardens on two levels.

There's an auditorium and several tea rooms decorated in rococo style, which turn in the evenings into a bar, open even after the period rooms and galleries are closed.

These can also be visited separately from the house and gallery rooms, under certain conditions (see below). The plan is to turn the Caumont Centre d'Art into a buzzing social hub. And, just a year after it opened, we've been impressed how it has already enhanced Aix's cultural scene.

hotel de caumont gardenThe Hôtel de Caumont was originally conceived by Robert de Cotte, the chief architect for King Louis XIV, the Sun King. (It's not to be confused with the building of the same name in Avignon, now the home of that city's own art gallery, the Collection Lambert.)

In Aix the Hôtel de Caumont went through various incarnations in the course of the centuries and was a centre for the French Resistance during the Second World War.

Eventually it became the base of Aix's Conservatoire de musique et de danse in 1964. When the Conservatoire moved in 2010 to a brand new building designed by Kenzo Kuma, the Hôtel de Caumont fell vacant and was purchased by Culturespaces.

This private foundation runs a small but select portfolio of museums and monuments, mainly in the South of France (they also include the hugely popular Quarries of Lights near Les Baux de Provence, that village's Château and the Roman amphitheatre in Orange).

The building had greatly deteriorated over the years, and so Culturespaces instigated a massive, 12.6 million €uro refurbishment programme.

It involved extensive work on the façade and the total remodelling of some of the salons with immaculate reproduction wallpaper, plaster mouldings, wood panelling, fabrics, furniture and works of art.

The whole project took 18 months to complete. And the wait has been worth it: the restoration is truly fabulous.

hotel de caumont music roomPassing through the exterior Cour d'Honneur, where visiting noblefolk descended from their carriages, you go into the entrance with its sweeping staircase guarded by two enormous caryatids.

On the left is a large book and gift shop. On the right are three pretty salons decorated in 18th century style and a gallery overlooking the gardens (the tea rooms / bar are located here).

On the first floor there is a music room, pictured, and the bedroom of Pauline de Caumont (1767-1850), the lady of the house and the inspiration behind its bright, light and very feminine decor.

The other rooms on the first and second floor of the Hôtel de Caumont are plainly painted for use as exhibition spaces. These alone are surprisingly large - 400 square metres / 4,300 square feet - and can accommodate very substantial shows.

In the auditorium, a specially commissioned 28 minute film about Aix's very own great artist, Paul Cézanne, is screened throughout the day. Piano recitals will also be held there throughout the year.

To complement Aix's Musée Granet, which tends to focus on more contemporary art, the emphasis at the Caumont Centre d'Art is on painters from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

It's planned to hold two exhibitions a year: one in summer devoted to an individual artist and one in winter of work from major private collections.

marilyn monoe bert sternThe current show at the Caumont Centre d'Art is called Marilyn, I Wanna Be Loved By You and is dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, probably the most photographed star in the history of film.

Around 60 images by photographers including André de Dienes, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Eve Arnold are on display until 1 May 2017.

Sourced mainly from private collections, they trace her emergence from pin-up, fashion model and nude calendar girl to an icon of cinema.

A large section of the exhibition is devoted to Monroe's extraordinary 12 hour session with Bert Stern shortly before her death in 1962. Pictured: Marilyn Monroe: With roses, pink tint. © Estate of Bert Stern / Staley-Wise Gallery / Galerie Dina Vierny.

And they reveal the extent to which Marilyn took an active role in fashioning her own public image. The contact sheet from this shoot was edited by the actress, who vetoed the images that displeased her.

The title of the show, incidentally, comes from a song the star sang in Billy Wilder's classic 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, a clip of which opens the exhibition.

Next summer at the Caumont Centre d'Art, it's Alfred Sisley. No-one can claim the gallery is not ecletic!

Click here to read our review of the inaugural, summer 2015 event at the Caumont Centre d'Art, an outstanding show dedicated to the Venetian artist Canaletto, here to read about the winter 2015-2016 exhibition of pieces on loan from the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein and here to read about the summer 2016 exhibition of work by JMW Turner.

Where: The Caumont Centre d'Art, 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100 Aix-en-Provence. Website for the Caumont Centre d'Art.

The all-inclusive entry price includes access to the period rooms of the Hôtel de Caumont and to the art exhibition, as well as to the tea rooms / bar and gardens.

There is currently a rather complicated procedure in place for visitors who just want to use the tea rooms alone. You have to buy a ticket for the house, after which you fill in a form to get a "pass" that will admit you to the tea rooms on subsequent occasions.

However, once the gallery is closed, there's free access for all to the tea rooms, which morph into a cocktail lounge for the evening. Cosy in winter, open on to the glorious gardens in summer, it's a great place to stop by for a drink.

Photo credits (from top): ©, C Moirenc, C Michel, all for Culturespaces.


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