by Jane Mann
Moving articles on the Retirada paint a vivid picture of the horrors suffered by the Republican refugees in 1939.
The shameful camps, over crowded, in-humane, crammed to overflowing with desperate Republicans escaping Franco’s Spain seem an unlikely place for art to flourish.
But artists were there as can be seen in the Museum in La Jonquera. And they did not go un-noticed in Perpignan either. In April, 1939, an exhibition was held of drawings by Antoni Clavé, Florès and Fontseré.
The quality of the drawings impressed Martin Vivès, a local Catalan painter. He had a Republican background, had been at school in the same class as Salvador Dali in Figueres and was later to count Cocteau, Dufy and Picasso among his friends.
Vivès made his way to the camps to meet the artists, a meeting remembered by Antoni Clavé in an interview published in L’Independent in 1977:
“We were thousands at Haras. One day I met a man (Vivès) who said to me, “I have seen your drawings and I am going to take you out for 24 hours.” I was overjoyed. A day of liberty and normal life, that meant a lot to us. The next day Vivès returned, “pack your bags” he said, you and Fontseré and Florès are coming with me.”
He took them to his home. They remained friends for life.
Vivès did not stop there, through his contacts at the Town Hall, he continued to help artists to escape the horrors of the camps becoming, himself, a member of the Resistance in 1940. He was on the Départment’s Liberation Committee at the end of the war and, after Liberation, was decorated as a Resistance hero.
After the War, Clavé, Fontseré and Florès went to Paris but Martin Vivès remained in Perpignan, his painting and life rooted in the Catalan landscape he so loved, his work full of colour and light, strongly influenced by Cézanne. He was one of the few mourners at Mailol’s funeral in 1944.
He became curator of the Perpignan’s Museum of Beaux Arts in 1944, a post he held until 1968.
He presided over the opening of the Museum in the Hotel Lazerme. He toiled ceaselessly to obtain the canvasses of Clavé, Florès, Dufy, Descossy; the sculptures of Maillol, Gili…So much of the wonderful art created in Roussillon in the first half of the twentieth century had slipped away, unrecognised at the time. Vivès did all he could to reverse the trend. He created an association of Friends of the Museum to further enrich the collection with gifts and donnations.
But, now, thanks to Martin Vivès and his successors, the collection has outgrown the Museum. Any of you who have visited lately may have noticed that some restoration is needed. The exciting news is that this is about to begin. The town already owns the Hotel Mailly. Over the next couple of years the two mansions will be amalgamated to create a museum with space for the collection to be shown in its entirety.
When complete, Perpignan’s long history of art, stretching from the thirteenth century to the present day, will be on show.
The new museum will aim to allow its visitors a deeper understanding of Perpignan, the emphasis will be on the “Perpiganan Effect”, reflecting the town’s history and surroundings, open to all, locals and visitors alike.
And, maybe, just maybe, the notes and descriptions will be written in English as well as French and Catalan.
Jane Mann’s Art Revolution
By Ellen Turner Hall
Jane Mann’s latest book Art Revolution in the Roussillon, written in partnership with Brian Cotton, is a thoroughly good read, widely researched and generously illustrated.
Starting with a dedication to Jojo Pous of the Templiers Hotel, Collioure, the book brims with local characters and regional landmarks. It tells the story of the great art movements in 20th century art seen from a local perspective. Based on letters and first hand interviews with friends, lovers and descendants, of among others Maillol, Matisse and Picasso, the revolution comes alive.
With a focus on regional gathering places, the authors present the painters and sculptors in the context of the sights, sounds and smells of Roussillon which nourished their talents and inspired their visions. Sculptors based in Roussillon, Maillol, Violet and Manolo, invited their careworn Parisian friends to join them in the south.
Matisse and Derain set up their easels side by side in Collioure. Picasso and Braque lived in the same house in Ceret. Etienne Terrus of Elne showed the visitors around the region and introduced them to collectors like de Montfreid of Corneilla-de-Conflent and Fayet of the Abbaye de Fontfroide.
The book includes a user-friendly guide to regional museums as well as sculpture tours: where to go, what to see, how to get there. This is the perfect way to discover for yourself the geniuses whose revolution has attracted artists and art lovers from all over the world to the Pyrenees Orientales.