The south of France, with its quality of light and its natural beauty, has long fostered the spirit of sharing in private collectors keen to reveal their treasures to the public.
We could mention the Maeght Foundation, which opened in 1964 in Saint-Paul de Vence and sets an example across the entire planet, even if its programming is now rather chaotic; Château La Coste, the vineyard and sculpture park which has been continually expanding on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence since the estate was purchased by an Irish art lover, Paddy McKillen in 2004; or the collection of the artist Bernar Venet that opened in 2014 at Le Muy, which showcases his own monumental artworks alongside those of American artists, from Sol Lewitt to Carl Andre.
And now there’s the Parisian investment banker Edouard Carmignac, owner of the investment firm that bears his name, who is in turn opening a foundation on 2 June in one of the most idyllic places in the south of France: the nature reserve on the island of Porquerolles, off the coast of Hyères.
Maintained by the local natural heritage trust – the island has been designated a “national park” – beneath the house that Carmignac has purchased he has hollowed out a subterranean museum. The 2000 m2 of the elaborate, luminous construction is designed to display a selection of 70 artworks from the 3000 he has in his possession.
Like in a Japanese temple, you’re obliged to take off your shoes before you can enter.
The investment banker has on his roster, for example, a dozen pieces by Basquiat (one of which is a painting that may well be the portrait of Carmignac himself) but also a dozen Lichtensteins, which we will only see a small taster of this year.
The selection was made by the independent curator Dieter Buchhart, who is known for being one of the great specialists of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Incidentally, he will be curating the retrospective of the latter artist this October at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
Dieter Buchhart confirms that Jean-Michel Basquiat made the portrait of Edouard Carmignac:
The Carmignac Foundation is exhibiting several masterpieces.
Starting with a piece by Gerhard Richter, a portrait of a woman in blue monochrome from 1964 that dialogues well with a Warhol from 1963, “The Kiss”, an image of an entwined couple taken from one of his films.
In those years the world was in the grip of the Pop Art movement and the Carmignac Foundation presents a remarkable cross section of these works.
See for example the pretty face from 1962 of the young lady painted by the French artist Martial Raysse.
Yes, Edouard Carmignac is fascinated by the fairer sex.
He couldn’t resist the creature depicted by Roy Lichtenstein in the purest Pop style (1964), shedding a tear. But during the visit he wished to emphasize his attachment to the woman revealing a breast while getting dressed in a typical pixelated collage from 1995 by the same Lichtenstein.
In 1960 the French artist Yves Klein made a very beautiful “Anthropometrie” painting with gold highlights, in which the woman placed her body smeared with many different colours directly onto the surface of the work. Her thighs were held open like an invitation.
But venturing far from the Pop canon, the big surprise of the exhibition is a painting made by the Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli and his atelier, depicting a Madonna and child. “It’s one of the rare Old Masters that moves me,” explains the investment banker
The painting was bought at the auction house Drouot in 2017 for 500,000 euros ( hammer price).
Edouard Carmignac points out that Mary’s face radiates a great serenity but she is also holding a pomegranate, symbol of fertility… so maybe there’s more on the cards.
Before going to take a walk in the surrounding park area overlooking the sea, you might however be disappointed by the showcase of younger talent on the upper floor, who are unable to live up to the collection’s classic pieces.
Here Edouard Carmignac has complied with the selection of the curator who explains:
The sun is about to set over this little island off the Var coast.
It’s at this moment that we glimpse, lost amid the pine trees at the end of the old tennis court, a spectacular billboard 12 metres in length made for the foundation by the veteran of Californian Pop Art, Ed Ruscha.
Written across it in large letters are the words: “Sea of Desire”. The desires of the investment banker, great though they may be, seem now to have been fulfilled.