The lovely Musée Angladon in Avignon launches its new, second-floor exhibition space on 7 April with a major event: a fabulous exhibition of 52 works by Raoul Dufy, on loan from a private collection.

They cover the artist's career during over four decades. Pictured below: La chambre à Aix les Bains (Bedroom in Aix les Bains), 1944. One highlight is a series of studies for Dufy's magnum opus, La Fée Électricité (The Spirit of Electricity), a massive and ambitious mural celebrating modernism and technology commissioned by the Paris Electric Company.

As well as Dufy's vibrantly coloured paintings, the show features his engravings. And it also explores a little-known but fascinating facet of his work: his long collaboration with the couturier Paul Poiret.

raoul dufy chambre aix les bainsDufy not only illustrated Poiret's collections, but also created with him a range of exclusive fabric designs.

It's all highly appropriate in view of Jacques Doucet's origins as a couturier. In fact, by a nice coincidence, Poiret even began his career in Doucet's workshop!

This must-see exhibition is called La Légèrté Raoul Dufy (The Lightness of Raoul Dufy) and runs until 3 September.

bd festival2017Now in its 14th year, the Festival de Bande Dessinée in Aix en Provence sprawls over several months from early April to late May, with a packed programme of exhibitions, conferences, signings and parties.

It also features one keynote weekend when the stars of the graphic novel world converge on Aix for a big beanfeast. This year it's on 7-9 April and over 50 artists have been invited, as well as publishers, specialist bookstore owners, fans and more.

aix BD festival 2017We went along one year and were astonished and impressed by the scale of it. The Cité du Livre - a huge, sprawling, maze-like complex of cinemas, libraries, meetings rooms and outdoor spaces right behind the Pavillon Noir - was fully taken over by the event.

There was something going on in every corner of the place: book signings, conferences and interviews, artists' demonstrations, live music and children's workshops.

This year's poster, detail pictured above, is by Simon Roussin. In a "treasure hunt" aimed at families, you can collect a set of 53 exclusive cards designed by him telling an adventure story from shops all over Aix.

This is a truly international festival which sprawls over into multiple venues. Other guest artists include Canada's Dave Cooper, whose creepy Eddie Table stories follow in the great David Cronenberg tradition, Germany's Jakob Hinrichs and Bolivia's Marco Tóxico.

Watch out too for the Manège Magique (Magic Roundabout), a fantastical carousel at the top of the Cours Mirabeau during April.

Click here to visit the festival website for the full programme. And click here to read about Aix's Graphic Novel Festival in 2015in 2016 and in 2018.

Color RunFeel healthy and have a fantastic time: what more could anyone ask? Fun runs with various gimmicks have become a real growth industry all across Europe - and that certainly includes Provence.

The first run of the season, on 8 April, is also the most challenging. In the area around Peyrolles lake north-east of Aix en Provence, The Mud Day is a 13 km / 8 mile obstacle course that takes you through brambles, up walls and, of course, through plenty of mud.

It sounds ideal for kids - and in fact children can take part in their own junior edition. And, possibly realising that splashing through the mud on a cold early spring day might be a bit too daunting for most, this year the organisers are offering a shorter, 7 km / 4 mile alternative.

As the days lengthen, several rather less demanding runs are scheduled in the region. Unlike the classic Marseille-Cassis half-marathon race, the point here is just to enjoy yourself along the way.

The routes are short enough for most people to complete, even if you're not super-fit, and no-one is checking on you with a chronometer.

One of the most popular events is the colour run, pictured above. As the inventors describe it, the idea is simple: "wear white at the starting line and finish plastered in colour!" It's inspired by Holi, a Hindi festival with a religious and spiritual significance.

On the way, runners are bathed in successive clouds of brightly coloured powder: orange for optimism, blue for vitality, green for harmony, yellow for joy and red for love.

The powder is harmless (cooking pigments mixed with flour) and doesn't stain the clothes, though a running outfit is provided to participants anyway, as are protective glasses. Children can, and indeed should, take part too. Afterwards, a DJ and dancing await.

Held with success in cities from Rio to London to Sydney, these runs are now regular fixtures in France. The next ones in the south take place in Martigues on 20 May, Grasse on 21 May, Aramon on 18 June and Saint Chamas on 25 June.

sardinesA new-ish addition to the fast expanding fun run scene is the Sardine Run, a 4 km / 2.5 mile course at the Campagne Pastré, a large park to the south of Marseille.

This highly kid-friendly event is open to children over the age of eight and involves sections with toboggans and water slides.

It's part of the Sardine Day, a sardine themed weekend that also includes art, a water chute and, very possibly, the odd sardine or two to eat.

The "concept" (or pretext) is the annual sardine run (migration) off the coast of Africa and the weekend is supposed to raise consciousness about pollution of the environment.

It's on 1-2 July. There's a "Sardine Night Fever" disco on Saturday 1 July and the run itself is on Sunday 2 July.

Also in Marseille is another new concept called the Défi Run ("défi" means "challenge" in French). It's billed as a sort of friendly obstacle race over either 5 or 10 km / 3 or 6 miles, followed by a party and DJ set, and is held on 10 September.

The acclaimed and provocative Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has a new show in one of the indoor galleries at Château La Coste. With the help of master kite-makers from Shandong Provence, he uses traditional techniques to create a 360 degree panorama of mythological figures, animals and fantastic scenes made of bamboo and white silk.

ai weiwei chateau lacoste craneHung up near the ceiling, these hundred-odd kites cast a lovely filigree of shadows on the gallery’s white walls and tell a mysterious story.

It's a delicate but monumental piece. Pictured: we visited the gallery while a crane was putting the finishing touches to this huge project.

The installation was first mounted in a very different context, at the Bon Marché department store in Paris, early last year. Called Child's Play, it is on at Château La Coste from 8 April-17 June.

 

Over 70 sculptures by leading contemporary African artists are on display all over Avignon from 19 May-14 January 2018. And they include some dazzling discoveries.

This must be the year's most exciting art event in Provence: an absolute must-see if you are in town, and worth a special trip there even if you are not.

confluences el anatsuiIn the Palais des Papes, a spectacular, glittering cape, pictured, by Ghana’s El Anatsui is made of crushed cans and bottle stoppers.

The exhibition notes – which are, helpfully, in English as well as French - point out that Pope Clement VI, one of the biggest-spending Avignon popes, had a fondness for sumptuous golden sheets too. These African artists achieve their glorious effects with humble, recycled junk or natural raw materials.

A mighty bison turns out to be an assembly of spark plugs and other car parts. We also loved Andries Botha's massive, noble wounded elephant made of wood and, pictured below, the wildly eccentric Egg Fight by Yinka Shonibare, inspired by Gulliver's Travels.

The sculptures are on loan from the Fondation Blachère in the Luberon, near Apt. So they aren't site-specific. But they work marvellously in their new surroundings. And much thought has been given to their placing.

For example, Diagne Chanel’s bronze women, victims of the war in Sudan, lie like sepulchres in the courtyard of the Petit Palais, a museum which houses similar tombs of popes and cardinals.

The story behind the pieces is intriguing too. The Fondation is owned by Jean-Paul Blachère, the head of a hugely successful multinational company that makes Christmas illuminations. The exhibition's title, Les Éclaireurs (The Pathfinders, or Enlighteners), must be in part a sly reference to this.

egg fight yinka shonibare avignonHe first discovered African art in 2000 and has been an avid collector ever since, making regular trips to the continent to discover new talent. His Foundation now owns over 1800 pieces. It also invites African artists to France for residencies.

Monsieur Blachère has been wheelchair-bound for over 30 years following a car accident. He told the French newspaper L’Express in an earlier interview, "I’ve spent a long time in the desert and Africa brought me out of it. It has so much human richness."

These magnificent sculptures are all around Avignon until 14 January 2018. Some are in key museums: the Petit Palais, the Musée Lapidaire and the Musée Calvert.

universal prayer ndary lo avignonPictured, one of Ndary Lo’s tall, slender, yearning figures throws up his (or her) hands in supplication on the square in front of the Palais des Papes.

The great majority of these pieces are inside the Palais itself, and so this should be the focus of your visit if you're on the African trail.

On sale at the Avignon Tourist Office, a ticket costs 11 €uros and gives you access to the Palais as well as all the other museums. An absolute bargain!

And, if you can't make it to the Papal city in time to catch Les Éclaireurs there, never fear: you can always head off to Apt to view the permanent collection at the Fondation Blachère, which is open to the public.

quirin mayer paintingThe Printemps de l'Art Contemporain (PAC) is a wide-ranging festival devoted to contemporary art in Marseille and the surrounding area throughout the late spring. In 2017 it runs from 25 May-11 June.

Now in its ninth year, PAC has been steadily growing in range and ambition. In 2016 over 24,000 visitors attended. In 2017 it once again offers a raft of activities and exhibitions, especially over the opening few days.

Expect musical performances, guided tours, conferences and shows at dozens of galleries all across town, from the Cours Julien to the Canebière, the Panier and even as far as the northern suburbs. There will also be events in the surrounding region: Istres, Aix en Provence and Châteauneuf le Rouge. Click here for the full programme.

 

alfred sisley hoar frostOpening this week at the Caumont Centre d'Art in Aix en Provence: a major exhibition devoted to the Impressioist painter Alfred Sisley (1839-1899).

Once again, the Caumont has a real feast in prospect for art lovers, with some 60 works on display.

They demonstrate Sisley's mastery of plein air (open air) landscape painting and his brilliance at capturing the elusive play of sunlight, wind, rain and the changing seasons.

That delicate vision is on full display in this exquisite, shimmering, 1874 study of a late summer frost. © Museum Barberini, Collection Hasslo Plattner, Potsdam.

Sisley's father, a textile manufacturer, refused to support his son when he decided not go into the family business. Moreover Sisley fils specialised in landscapes rather than money-spinning society portraits.

So it was a struggle for him to make ends meet. Not for him the expensive European grand tour. He painted almost entirely within a tiny radius in the countryside near Paris.

Moreover much of Sisley's early work was lost in a fire during the Franco-Prussian war, few letters from him survive and he died relatively young, aged 59. So little is known about the man. No wonder he was overshadowed by contemporaries such as Renoir or Monet.

Though he was born in France, Sisley held British citizenship (his parents were British). He was influenced by Constable and Turner as well as his fellow French impressionists. He travelled to Britain occasionally too, and a handful of pieces in this exhibition were created there.

sisley hampton court bridgeThe bold perspectives and rich colours of a southern Wales coastline in Penarth or of a startling, foreshortened view under Hampton Court Bridge (painted in 1874) suggest Sisley was starting to evolve in new directions. © Kunstmuseum, Winterthur.

This superb exhibition also includes a specially commissioned short film interview with its incredibly knowledgable curator, MaryAnne Stevens.

Look out as well for a slide show of vintage photographs of the landscapes as they were when Sisley painted them and another slide presentation of his sketchbooks. It was previously at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut and is in Aix en Provence from 10 June-15 October.

trets festivalCertain spots in Provence are magnets for tourists. The guides on this website to such legendary destinations as Cassis, Saint Rémy, Lourmarin and L'Isle sur la Sorgue are among the most visited pages on Marvellous Provence - and so are those towns and villages themselves.

Yet Provence is jam-packed with lovely secret places that most international visitors have never heard of and never go near. And so they are mercifully free of souvenir shops and tour groups, you can park there relatively easily and lunch won't cost a king’s ransom.

Now the region has decided to single out one of these hidden gems - a town or village with a population of under 20,000 - to be the "capitale provençale de la culture" each year: perfect for anyone in Provence this summer who would like to try something a little bit different, away from the crowds.

The chosen "capital" for 2017 is Trets, a small, pretty, mediaeval town in the beautiful foothills of Mont Sainte Victoire, pictured, a short drive south-east of Aix en Provence.

The programme starts on 16 June, runs until the end of December and is a mix of traditional festivals, street theatre, art shows and concerts open-air feasts and other food and drink events and ambitious spectacles, such as a Brazilian-style mini-carnival to kick-start it all.

sainte victoire late afternoonSome of the region's bigger shindigs, such as the Aix music festival, the piano festival of La Roque d’Anthéron or the Five Continents jazz festival of Marseille will be staging guest events in Trets too.

The inspiration behind the project is Marseille-Provence's dazzlingly successful year in the spotlight as the European City of Culture in 2013. The new initiative has nothing like that budget, of course, and is on a much smaller scale.

It's also confined to the Bouches du Rhône region around Marseille, Aix and Arles. But this could be a fantastic way for you to discover the authentic, undiscovered Provence.

If you are in Aix en Provence on the weekend of 24-25 June, and if you love art, a serious treat is in store. Les Flâneries d'Art is a mini-festival based in the elegant gardens of the city's Old Town, some of them open to the public only for this event.hotelpigonnet parc2

Here a small but select group of international artists will display their work. They represent a whole range of disciplines: painters, sculptors, photographers and many more.

There'll be music, dance, opera and literary readings too. And the artists will be present throughout the weekend to chat informally to the public, and all the pieces are for sale. Best of all, admission is free.

The dynamic driving force behind it all is the actress Andréa Ferréol, whom film-goers might remember from her starring roles in the hugely controversial La Grande Bouffe, RW Fassbinder's Despair, François Truffaut's The Last Metro and Peter Greenaway's A Zed and Two Noughts.

But, before this impressive international acting career, Ferréol studied art in Aix and has kept her passion.

She hand-picks the artists for the Flâneries - now in its eleventh edition - and has attracted the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and a formidable line-up of commercial sponsors, despite the recession.

It's difficult to translate the name, by the way. You could call Les Flâneries d'Art "art walks" or "art strolls", but this doesn't convey the fact that, for the French, the word flânerie is loaded with literary associations.

As described by classic writers such as Baudelaire or Balzac, flâner means "to stroll" - not aimlessly or at random, but in a super-perceptive way, as a connoisseur and observer of the world: a discerning, curious and intelligent man or woman of leisure.

If this is you (and, actually, even if it isn't, because the event sounds like a lot of fun!), then head for Aix for a refined and immersive art experience. Website for Les Flâneries d'Art in Aix en Provence.

Opening this week at the Musée Granet in Aix en Provence is an exhibition called called Passion de l'Art (A Passion for Art) which, unusually, explores the work of the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery and art dealership in Paris.

jeanne bucherBorn in 1872, Jeanne Bucher was always closely involved in art. Her husband was a celebrated pianist and she herself worked translating Strindberg and Rilke and running a foreign language bookshop.

Then she began curating exhibitions and in 1926 turned her bookshop into a gallery.

Her tastes were wide-ranging, and that’s reflected by the examples on view at the Granet. Some big names are there – Picasso, Kandinsky, Braque, Giacometti – but also many new discoveries.

As the mood in Europe turned dark, Bucher championed dissident, Jewish and what the Nazis called "degenerate" artists. Photographs capture a strong, handsome women with a steady, almost challenging gaze: someone with firm views. Image © Galerie Jeanne Bucher.

After her death in 1946, her great-nephew, Jean-François Jaeger, took over. He had never met Bucher and had no previous gallery experience. But that didn't seem to hold him back.

Jaeger developed an interest in world art, acquiring monumental pieces from Mexico and New Guinea. By then the gallery had moved to larger premises and he could accommodate much bigger works than was originally possible. Today his daughter, Véronique, continues the family tradition.

The exhibition at the Granet presents over 100 works from the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery. It includes many wonderful pieces. We loved the silvery, shimmering visions of Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, a mysterious portrait of Samuel Beckett by Louis Le Brocquy, Fabienne Verdier's brilliant giant paintbrush stroke and the fabulous abstract and semi-abstract pieces by Nicolas de Staël to mention just a few.

de stael studio orangePictured: Atelier fond orange (Studio orange background) by de Staël. © Private collection. Large photographs show how some of these works were originally displayed in Paris.

The explanatory panels at the Granet are in French only, however, so you'll need to pay an extra three €uros for an audio-guide if you want a commentary in English or another language.

We met Véronique Jaeger at the press view and had two rather naïve questions, which she answered elegantly. Gallery owners aim to sell their artworks – so how did the Bucher Jaeger family end up owning so many?

At first it was hard to find buyers for some pieces, such as the zany, brightly coloured work of Jean Dubuffet, she explained. And finally the family became attached to them.

Our second question: the Bucher Jaeger Gallery represents a kind of dynasty. Can you inherit a passion for art? Madame Jaeger says she had this very discussion recently with her own 12-year-old son.

His reply: "It’s not a question of inheriting, but of meriting." A mature insight that bodes well for the Bucher Jaeger Gallery's future. 24 June-24 September.

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