Finding beautiful art in Toulouse

The beautiful arts are very present in Toulouse with all its modernity and bustle but here are some pretty special places we saw.

The Fondation Bemberg is located in Toulouse’s hôtel d’Assézat, a 16th century palace. Georges Bemberg came from a family who appreciated and supported the arts, and his personal art collection is housed here. He studied at Harvard and Yale and made his career in comparative French and English literature. But he is also a talented pianist. (At one time he thought of becoming a composer.) All this in addition to his interest in painting and sculpture. His collection focuses on the renaissance and French modern school and includes paintings, objets d’art, furniture, bronzes and books.

He donated his collection to the city of Toulouse which restored the palace to house it, making both available to the public. Of particular interest to me was the collection of over 30 paintings by Pierre Bonnard, a post-impressionist painter and one of the founders of Les Nabis – a group of artists interested in portraying spiritual and symbolic content in their paintings. But there were just so many works I liked – a lot by Pissaro, Vuillard, Derain, Signac, Berthe Morisot, Cezanne, Modigliani, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, – I know I have gone on… and I could continue, but see what I mean?

The Musée des Augustins houses Toulouse’s musée des beaux art. Its large and comprehensive collection includes paintings and sculptures dating from the Middle Ages through the major art movements to early 20th century. Its romanesque and gothic sculpture is particularly interesting. These sculptors and their creations have attitude! But there are also some spectacular paintings in the painting collection too. A definite for your Toulouse list.

Perhaps the most surprising place was Les Jacobins. Another Languedoc gothic structure, this one is built entirely of red brick. The church looks quite imposing and austere from the outside, but stepping inside, the columns and ribs of the roof lift your eyes to this huge light space with an amazing ‘palm tree’ effect above the nave at one end which is absolutely spectacular. The original bright colours are still very evident as are the various symbols painted on the walls. Red and green are juxtaposed in the designs creating a vibrational, shining effect.

The buildings were begun in 1229 to house the Brotherhood of Preachers, a Dominican order. (The cloister is behind the church.) As and when needed, building continued over the next two centuries. So this ‘look’ is very different from the usual, more austere Dominican style.

Another surprise to me anyway, was finding the tomb of St Thomas Aquinas, an important Catholic theologian, here in Les Jacobins. Yet, when we were there, everything was very low key with few visitors. I would have expected more interest in his relics after our visit to Lourdes, but there is a lot I don’t know about this I am sure.

I’ll save my very favourite art place for another posting or the computer will explode with too many pictures in this one…


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One Response to Finding beautiful art in Toulouse

  1. Jebby says:

    I am quite sure I could not have told you where St Thomas Aquinas was buried, but had I guessed it would never have been France. Was he French? We read a fair bit in school, but I suppose I thought he was English. Will you two be back in time for the Picasso exhibit at the AGNSW in November? Should I book us tickets? The trip continues to sound wonderful, Love, J

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