Two things Céret is famous for are its cherries and its art – particularly modern art from the end of the 19th century to well into the second half of the 20th. But although I’d heard there was a good gallery here, I didn’t expect a whole lot from such a little town and was quite swept away with how really good the Musée d’Art Moderne de Céret and its collection is. It is certainly worth making an effort to see it, quite apart from the charm of the town – and the cherries! But that is another story.
Many artists came to Céret to paint, often returning several times. In fact Braque and Picasso painted lived and painted here together during 1911 and 1912 the result of which is credited with the birth of the Cubist movement. (Though there are pre-echoes in some of Cezanne’s work.) The nearness of Céret to Barcelona, the Basque region and its strong Catalan identity meant that numerous artists from both Spain and France painted and discussed art here together. In addition to Picasso and Braque, there were Juan Gris, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Raoul Dufy, Auguste Herbin, Henri Matisse, Miró, Antoni Tàpies, Claude Viallat, Toni Grand to just start the list…
Again I found it interesting to look at the different perspectives and styles artists use to portray the same subject matter, and how they influence each other, yet how they take different paths in the development of their own style – however conscious or unconscious. Throughout the town the art gallery has displayed copies of paintings, with backgrounds (in French) of various paintings by various of these artists, some of which I have included in the pictures.
Two examples are:
Picasso’s collaged portrayal of the façade of the old gendarmerie (now the Musée d’Art Moderne) is so minimalist, the blue undertone referencing a period of his own work and earlier visits, as well as the shady street area. His reference to the huge plane trees lining the streets and so characteristic of the town consists of one blue trunk and minimal green pastel scratches… and is still so recognisable.
Vincent Bioules’ Les Plantanes, le jour, in comparison, wonderfully captures the feeling of the trees crowding overhead and lining and shading the streets like sentries, their leaves dappling and dimming all the light. (This dappling effect made it really difficult to photograph the street scenes because the contrasting light and shade took over from the subject in terms of what the camera could capture.) And again it was often artists whose work I didn’t previously know about that I enjoyed even more… like Maurice Toureuil, Auguste Herbin, Vincent Bouiles, and André Masson. And the gallery continues to support the avant garde artists by exhibiting their work, including Catalan artists.
Then another magic moment happened! We’d just come from the gallery and decided to have lunch at the little bistro (where the tabac in Picasso’s painting once was). We had a wobbly table and two distinguished gents at the table next to us joked about it with us. They’d noticed me talking about the Chagall placemats (we’d just seen some more of Chagall’s work) and then when they left, they told us to go down a particular street to see a really good exhibition of contemporary artists. I thought it was an archeological exhibition, but they said, no, past that a bit further on the right.
We finished our meal, and we eventually came to this little sign and went into a courtyard to find the Pierre Mau artist space. And voila! They were both there! Bernard Dupoirier dubbed ‘Dub’, a painter, and Jean Pierre Constans a sculptor, both from nearby Toulouges.
Jean Pierre sculpts from old Roussillon vines bringing attention to art in nature and working with what he sees is already there. He carefully studies the wood and finds figures, faces, demons, angels, dragons, saints… it’s amazing what emerges. He has his own process of cleaning and treating the wood to maintain it and give it its final satin smooth finish without removing anything unnecessary and keeping as much of the original as possible.
Dub works with oil on canvas but explores a variety of styles, though loves using. His work is figurative but he too explores the patterns occurring in nature. Both artists are interested in how patterns occur in the micro and the macro. You can see it in Dub’s paintings of paddy fields being shrunk to a pattern, and the skin on the throat looking like forest or the skin pattern in a thumbprint painted large.
It was a real privilege meeting these warm hearted artists (and good fun!) They remember and honour the ‘big names’ artists of yesteryear who came here and proudly continue to celebrate the artistic tradition of their heritage.
There were a lot of other small galleries in the town which we didn’t get to visit – hopefully next time?