August 1, 2001
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA Editor-in-chief
Photo: Courtesy of Fondation Maeght
Few architectural projects resonate the way the Fondation
Maeght affected me. I must confess that this private museum,
perched on a hillside near the French Riviera outside St.
Paul de Vence, had escaped me, relegated to a vague smudge
in my minds graphic memory bank. Perhaps thats
partially why, when I trudged up the hillside and encountered
this serene masterwork by Josep Lluis Sert, the ensemble moved
me so: it was as if I had ascended to another, wholly unexpected
The setting seemed both sensually saturated and otherworldly,
from garden wall to tower to bonneted museum, poised on a
green field beneath the pines. Works by Chagall, Miro, Giacometti,
stood like monitors throughout the property; art suffused
the entirety. Also evident was the architects conscious
delight and manipulation of the whole, the creation of an
interlocked, paradisical puzzle of pathway, texture (stone,
concrete, brick), spatial interplay, form, light, point of
view, and the appeal to the senses (the odor of the pines,
the splash of water in the azure tiled pools)all graced
with an overweening sense of the poet Baudelaires luxe,
calme, et volupté. Somehow, Sert and the Maeghts collaborated
to saturate the hilltop with a spiritual dimension, all through
the power of art.
An entire dissertation could be written on the mastery of
interior light, in which Sert judiciously pours natural light
through curved monitors onto the walls, warming what are often
cool boxes with luminous energy. Or the control of the daylit
Provencal vistas, beckoning along the axial pathways. On the
day I visited, Kandinsky paintings glowed with jewel-like
persistence in the galleries. The walls shone with the essence
of filtered sunlight, while the chapel exploded with the sustained
purple burst projected through a Braque stained glass window.
What other expressive modernist masterpieces achieve a blend
of such equipoise and emotional force? Certainly Le Corbusiers
chapel at Ronchamp, or Kahns Salk Institute and Kimbell
Museum. Mies more rigorous Barcelona Pavilion achieved
a sense of unity in its elements and making that may be the
equivalent, though the original escaped my personal experience.
Here, on a remote French hilltop, is an obvious progenitor
of details that continue to bloom in contemporary work.
What I know is that the Fondation Maeght moved me, stirred
me, touched me as few works of architecture have. I will investigate
it more, for it has much more to offer than could be explored
in a single, brief encounter.