As a fine artist who is inspired by looking at other artwork, imagine the pleasure I took on a recent visit to The Tarn and Averyon areas of Midi-Pyrénées, France. I was spoilt. I admit it – taken around some of the finest museums with the tourism professionals who promote the region but the work stands for itself and there is much to enjoy – even on my brief visit.
Arriving in Toulouse with easyjet, we drove first to Albi, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s home town. The collection of over 1,000 pieces, (the largest in the world), has recently been re-housed and shown to their best advantage in the ancient Berbie Palace.
This magnificent old bastion is a fitting venue to house this extensive and colourful collection. A good start on this artistic meander around the region.
You can even lunch at the pretty restaurant – Le Clos Sainte Cécile. A former school opened by Toulouse-Lautrec’s uncle, this is the perfect al fresco restaurant for sunny days.
After an hour or so looking at the collection, my next adventure was to drive out to the Château du Bosc, Toulouse-Lautrec’s family home. This is actually in nearby Aveyron but not too far a drive.
More of this in a second as it was en route to this chateau that I chanced upon the contemporary work of an Englishman abroad - the British artist, Colin Painter. an exceptionally fine draftsman and from the moment I saw his exhibition advertised at the old miner’s museum, I started to see posters of both the exhibition and examples of his work over the Tarn and Averyon. For this exhibition, he has met with seven mining families and his works show the life of a miner from recollections and from the archives, If you are in the area, do check out his work as I did – the exhibition is on until 18th November 2012. More of Colin later!
Onto the Château du Bosc and Toulouse-Lautrec’s childhood home and in many ways, a shrine to both Henri and to his family. This is where we briefly nip across county lines, straying into the Averyon area.
Time seems suspended here and you look out on vistas that the young Toulouse-Lautrec would have seen. Unbelievable as it might seem, one of his descendants – the delightful Madame Nicole Tapié de Celeyran – will show you around the venerable house, slightly crumbling now, and will tell you the story of her family. You can almost hear the sound of former generations of the family, brought alive by her anecdotes.
Over the border back into the Tarn, onto Monestiés (20 km north of Albi & classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France) and the Bajen-Vega Gallery (situated actually above the town’s tourist office) which was something of a revelation.
A husband and wife team of Spanish origin, the artworks are now seen side by side when once only the husband was celebrated. Their styles and techniques are surprisingly different and are hung to good advantage in this medieval building. Do go visit the statues of the Château de Combefa – they are enchanting and its just a two minute walk away.
The next stop is Cordes-sur-Ciel, so called as in certain weather conditions, only the towers of this hillside town can be seen above the clouds – the very first Bastide of Midi-Pyrénées and a Grand Site of the region. Around 30 artists live in Cordes today – among them the very hospitable, mixed-use artist Rowena Maybourn shown here - having started to move there as an artists’ colony around 1941, restoring the buildings as they went. Jean Paul Belmondo’s father actually lived there too.
Onto Castres and the Spanish flavour kicks in again with the Goya and Spanish Art Museum featuring prized works by Goya, Murillo, Pacheco, Velasquez and Zurbana. What I particularly loved however was looking out through the entrance to the Le Nôtre designed Bishop’s Gardens – a true artist but of nature.
Finally, it’s back to the aptly named Colin Painter again. Do you recognise those drawings on the wall? Yes – they are Colin’s and this time illuminating the past world of the military at The Royal School-Abbey of Soreze. All these kiddies grew up to be the leaders of a generation and you can feel their ghosts walking beside you.
Contributer & photographer: Sue Lowry
The Tarn is part of the CRT Midi-Pyrénées which is a client of Magellan PR. Follow them on Twitter – @tourismemidipy and Facebook: Tourisme-en-Midi-Pyrénées. The Tarn is also on Twitter – @TourismeTarn and on Facebook: tarntourisme.sudouest
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- Five French Towns You Should Visit ASAP (landlopers.com)
- Five things to do in Albi, Tarn, Midi-Pyrénées (magellanstraits.com)
- The view from my hotel: Albi, Tarn, Midi-Pyrenees (magellanstraits.com)
- Exhibition Celebrates the art of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Paris Belle Epoque (wisn.com)