A Hotspot for contemporary art in the south of France: Villa Noailles

A Hotspot for contemporary art  in the south of France: Villa Noailles
© Daniel Wilk
Must see  -   Architecture

In the South of France, a modernist villa overlooks the historic city of Hyeres, offering visitors a stunning a view over the picturesque bay and islands beyond. Art lovers will be entranced by this jewel of the Riviera, the beauty and uniqueness of its location impressing even the most discerning critic. Now a backdrop for an international collection of contemporary art, the house was once home to famed Parisian collectors Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, aficionados of the avant-garde art scene of the 1920s.

While the house may not look unconventional today, it would have been an extraordinary sight when it was constructed in France’s inter-war years and was one of the most prominent modernist buildings of its time. The project took shape in 1923, led by the young architect Robert Mallet-Sevens who began with the intriguing concept of designing ‘a little house interesting to live in’. The Noailles and their designer collaborated closely until the project’s completion in 1933, and again during various extensions. At a generous 1200m² and flooded with light, the house rightly impressed the many artists who were subsequently invited to the villa.

The owners possessed incredible vision and were keen to support a fresh generation of painters. They forged close relationships with international artists and the villa became something of a creative salon, attracting rising stars such as Picasso, Buñuel, Man Ray, Cocteau and Giacometti. Their flair for art helped many emerging artists to gain recognition on the national scene: the couple acquired artworks from promising new talent and sponsored many disciplines from painting to dance. The Villa Noailles – as it is now known – was also used as a location for the Man Ray film, Les Mystères du château du Dé, in which the sublime cubist style of the house takes centre stage. Other famous figures of the surrealism movement also used the house as a setting, including Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, who filmed L’Age d’Or here.

When Marie-Laure Noailles died, Charles gifted the house to the city of Hyères, in the hope that it would retain its link with the arts. It was to be the last and most enduring act by a couple who had already contributed so much to the art world. The Noailles’ wishes were honoured and the house is now an art centre internationally renowned for its focus on the new generation of artists – photographers, fashion and object designers, as well as architects. Indeed, two festivals and various exhibitions on these topics are held here every year: The International Festival of Fashion and Photography takes place in April, sponsored by prestigious fashion houses such as Chanel or Swarovski, while The Design Parade is scheduled every July and offers a showcase for emerging artists.

Almost a century after its creation, the villa remains a place for creativity and is one of the few cultural institutions in the French provinces to be a prominent player on the international art scene, its unique location and remarkable history having elevated it to a place of international cultural significance. Throughout the year, the house opens its doors to ‘artists in residence’ and is also used as a venue for children’s workshops and meetings. A part of the building is reserved for a permanent exhibition of documents, objects, videos and artworks that explore and celebrate the lives and works of Charles and Marie-Laure Noailles.

Featured image: © Daniel Wilk