Musee Regards de Provence in MarseilleA showcase for provençal art, the Musée Regards de Provence is also a fascinating historic building in its own right.

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It belongs to the Fondation Regards de Provence, an organisation which owns a collection of around 900 artworks created in and about Provence.

Until recently the Fondation was based in the Palais des Arts, formerly the city library and archive, an ornate building designed by Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the architect of Notre Dame de la Garde. Its new premises are very different, however.

Located near the Cathedral in the very fast-expanding port area of Marseille, the Musée Regards de Provence structure was built in 1948. The architect was Fernand Pouillon, who also designed the big, brutalist apartment blocks lining the northern quay of Marseille's Old Port.

The Musee Regards de Provence and Cathedral, MarseillePictured, the museum on 28 February 2013, the day before its inauguration, with the Cathedral and a lingering crane in the background.

The building's original purpose was as a station sanitaire or sanitary station, where people arriving from abroad by sea or air went through a disinfection, screening and vaccination process in a bid to fight the city's ever-present threat of epidemics.

The building had been abandoned for some 40 years and was occupied by squatters when the Fondation acquired it in a lamentable state. Privately funded, the 6.5 million €uro restoration project was overseen by the Marseille architect Guy Daher.

Foyer area Musee Regards de Provence MarseilleOnce threatened with demolition, the station sanitaire is today a listed building. Sleek and very 1950s-looking yet also quite contemporary, this 1,115 square metre / 12,000 square foot space is a worthy companion to the two brand-new, ultra-modern museums just across the road, the Villa Méditerranée and the MuCEM.

The reception area is a large atrium, pictured, with a double-height ceiling lit by cloud-shaped lamps. Dotted around are plants and bulbous fibreglass sculptures which won't be to all tastes but which do indicate right away loud and clear that the Fondation is interested in contemporary as well as classic art.

On the left as you enter is a rather good art shop stocked with the Fondation's own excellent scholarly publications and other books on provençal art.

On the right in the salle des étuves (steam room) is a permanent installation, Mémoire de la station sanitaire (Memories of the Sanitary Station).

Conceived by the designers of Marseille's Mémorial de la Marseillaise, this 45-minute show - for which there is a small charge - explores the history of the plague in Marseille, immigration and the sanitary station.

Steamroom at the Musee Regards de Provence in MarseilleIt includes an evocative steampunk sound and light show starring the strange old machinery that's still there in situ. The presentation is in French with English subtitles.

The temporary exhibitions are housed in galleries on the ground and first floors. These are long and low-ceilinged with unusual but surprisingly harmonious proportions, and the windows along both the front and the back walls make them very luminous.

Currently at the Musée Regards de Provence (until 4 June) and highly recommended: Quirin Mayer, entre equilibre et hamonie (Quirin Mayer, Between Balance and Harmony).

quirin mayer paintingThe glorious colours and sensuous shapes of Mayer's work hit you in the eye the moment you enter the building: a much-needed tonic on a cold, grey winter's day. Bursting with high spirits and energy, this exhibition is the artist's first solo show in France and is guaranteed to make you leave with a smile.

The pieces are geometric and semi-abstract but many of them contain recognisable motifs. Some are circus scenes, others couples, animals or plants.

Mayer works in a range of media: paintings in acrylic, drawings in pastels or felt-tips, brightly coloured aluminium sculptures, enamelled ceramics and paper cut-outs reminiscent of the late Matisse.

quirin mayer with sculptureTheir exuberance is infectious. At the press view jouralists and critics at the press view were posing and taking selfies with the pieces as though in an adventure playground. But the genial Herr Mayer (a Swiss German based in Monaco) was the centre of attention.

Born in 1927, he spent his entire working life running a successful office supplies business and, remarkably, was 62 before he started creating art for the first time. This year he turns 90 and is in a wheelchair. But his physical frailty does not seem to have diminished his plans.

This must be one of the most enjoyable shows currently on in Marseille. But, if you miss it, you'll still be able to see his work here: the museum has bought one of his sculptures, pictured, with Herr Mayer, for its forthcoming new garden terrace.

Also currently at the Musée Regards de Provence: a show dedicated to the painter and illustrator David Dellepiane. Nearly 100 of his colourful paintings and posters, most of them from private collections, are on public display for the first time.

Dellepiane (1866-1932) was born in Italy but grew up near the Old Port of Marseille on the waterfront where he drew much of his inspiration.

He studied for a while in Paris where he was influenced by pointillism, Art Nouveau and oriental painting. Returning to Provence he created a series of gorgeous images celebrating Marseille's history, trading and tourism.

One of the most striking is an 1899 Art Nouveau poster marking the 2,500th anniversary of Marseille and showing the meeting of Protis and Gyptis.

dellepiane david posterAccording to legend, this love story between a Greek sailor and a local princess, and their subsequent marriage, enabled the city to be founded. Dellepiane's luxuriant, romantic (and subtly sexy) image was so popuar that it was an instant sell-out and went into several editions.

Pictured: Dellepiane's poster for the National Colonial Exhibition of 1922. Until 23 April 2017. Also at the Musée Regards de Provence at the moment: a show devoted to the Swiss-born contemporary sculptor and painter Quirin Mayer. Until 4 June.

Looking further ahead, the museum hopes to stage an exhibition of the outrageous avant-garde artist from Nice simply known as Arman.

Last but not least is the Regards Café on the second floor. Snacks, drinks and simple lunches are served here in an elegant, 1950s-retro interior or on an outdoor terrace. Both overloook the port, the MuCEM and Fort Saint Jean, the Villa Méditerranée and the Cathedral.

You can drop in there (or visit the bookshop on the ground floor) without paying to go into the exhibitions. Turn left as you enter and take the lift / elevator or stairs up.

The restaurant offers special deals for groups (details on the museum's website) and can get crowded. Arrive early or reserve a table for the best views.

Insider tip for the Musee Regards de Provence MarseilleDon't worry if the restaurant is full: the outdoor terrace arguably has the best views of all, and you can buy a salad and drinks at the counter to take out and eat there.

Click here to read full reviews of recent shows at the Fondation Regards de Provence dedicated to Roger Blachon (1941-2008), René Seyssaud (1867-1952), Joseph Garibaldi (1863-1941), Alfred Lombard (1884-1973) and the artists of the Bateau Lavoir.

Where: The Musée Regards de Provence, allée Regards de Provence, rue Vaudoyer, 13002 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 42 51 50. Website for the Fondation Regards de Provence.

How to get there: The Musée Regards de Provence sits to the north of the Old Port, just beyond the Fort Saint Jean, near the spur of land known as the J4 Esplanade and the Sainte Marie Majeur Cathedral.

You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. Alternatively, take bus 82, 82S or 60.

The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest metro (Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram (République/Dames or Joliette) stops.

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