Tootlafrance talks to one of Ireland’s principal figures in the art world about his new book “An Art Lover’s Guide to the French Riviera”
On Wednesday, 18th of May last, in the appropriate setting of the RHA gallery in Dublin, author Patrick J Murphy launched an art/travel book of unique qualities.
Published by Connemara-based Artisan House Editions, “An Art Lover’s Guide to the French Riviera” is the kind of guide that you felt must have published years ago, but it wasn’t. At the launch ceremony, guest of honour was HE Jean-Pierre Thébault (in main pic(l) with the author), French Ambassador to Ireland. The assembled crowd also included many prominent figures in the Irish art world, including Anne Madden, artist and widow of Louis Le Brocquy.The guide begins with Nice – the capital of the Côte – “a unique city for art lovers to visit,” says Patrick in his book. “It has so many museums, so many ancient and modern churches with important works of art, so many commercial art galleries, so many fine buildings and public sculptures, that you could spend an entire holiday here exploring art, and not find time to visit the many superb art museums further up and down the coast.” It speaks volumes of how seriously the arts are treated in general in France and of how much art there is to see in this particular part of France. It contrasts rather starkly with the effective downgrading of the arts under Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s leadership.
Starting on this somewhat sour note, author Patrick J Murphy is disappointed with the stance of the current government towards the arts:
“Oh, I’m very upset at that. I think it’s a shame because since I came back, every art institution is looking for money because they haven’t enough to support living artists now.”
The first thing to note about this book is that it’s wonderfully old-fashioned, but in the best possible way. In other words, it doesn’t have short snappy bullet-points and there aren’t any hyperlinks. For all that, it’s certainly not a rambling read and the information is kept concise, even when delving a little deeper into the lives of some of the more illustrious artists associated with the South of France. It reads like the voice of an old pal taking you by the hand around one of the most magical places in the world, uncovering a stone here, shining a light there on all that there is to see art-wise in the area.With a foreword by Irish poet and Côte d’Azur resident John Montague, the book goes as far north as Draguignan (where there’s a wonderful little museum), as far east as Menton and as far west as Saint Tropez. It’s a publication worth hanging onto for either the first-time visitor to the area and even more so for anyone who makes a habit of going back to the Riviera time after time. As Patrick says in his introduction, the French Riviera is accessible for anyone with modest means and the wonderful array of art on view here is also very accessible.
The second point of note is that it’s a very comprehensive guide. Having been to Nice a few times (and more than once to look at art), I realise that I’ve been only scratching the surface up to now.
“It was only when I started the book that I realised that there was even more to it than I had seen,” he says laughing, “so I had to pretty much go through everlasting to make sure that the book was reasonably comprehensive.”
Patrick is a passionate art collector and has amassed a lifetime’s expertise, not only through collecting and curating, but also through appointments such as that of Chairman of the Arts Council of Ireland, and as Art Adviser to the President of Ireland.The Riviera is evolving all the time in terms of its art scene. While it might not be the most dynamic place in the world in terms of artistic creation any more, its vast well of artistic creation and continual allure means that collections and galleries are still opening; such as the new Musée d’Art Classique in Mougins that was funded by a hedge fund trader from London who lives in the area. Menton also got the Midas touch from a private investor:
“Just a couple of years ago, this Parisian art collector offered 1,000 pieces of modern art to the town of Menton on the condition that they would build the gallery to show them. A friend of mine down there commented something like ‘Oh, this being France, they probably won’t do it for about 10 years’. But the place was designed and built in two or three years. It’s a terrific success and a great draw for Menton.”
“I first went there about 40 years ago on business to Cannes,” says Patrick, “and I went to look at the Chagall Museum at the time. But, we really only got to know about 11-12 years ago when we went to visit the in-laws down there and I decided that as we were selling off the old place in Wexford, we might as well buy an apartment down there.”
Having spent a considerable amount of time driving up and down the Riviera coast with estate agents, Patrick and his wife Antoinette were on the point of buying an apartment in Menton when they changed their sights to Nice so that, they could be “in the centre of it all, with the Opera House and the Monday morning market and the galleries and so forth.” They now divide their time between their home in Ireland and their apartment in Nice.Nice is also a food-lover’s paradise and one of Patrick and his wife’s favourite haunts is La Table Alziari in the Old Town, as well as L’Ecole de Nice on Rue de la Buffa. More recently, he has been shown the delights of Les Sens on Rue Pastorelli. “It’s one of the best restaurants in Nice… and not expensive.”
Patrick started his working life at the age of 16 in 1959, when he left Wexford to work in Dublin in the Bank of Ireland. Although he describes the Côte d’Azur in his book as “the closest thing to paradise”, he also says that his 3-year stint banking in the Big Smoke was also pretty close: “There were only ten men in the place, including the governor, and about 100 women all under the age of 20,” he says.
After qualifying as a banker at the age of 19, he applied to Guinness and was taken on and given further training as a brewer. It was a position that was to take him around the world – first to London, from where Guinness were planning a brewery in Brazil, and then to Malaysia and Ghana. Along the way, he indulged in his passion for art,collecting pieces that caught his eye, from Chinese porcelain snuff bottles to African bronze miniature sculpture pieces and everything in between. It’s a collection that he still adds to today, often picking up treasures in flea markets in Nice – such as a €400 drawing by Yves Klein. The avant-garde artist from the famous Ecole de Nice died a young man and his works now sell for millions of Euro. Patrick’s addiction to art collection is showing no signs of stopping.
“Yes, it’s getting a bit ridiculous now. I keep saying saying ‘I’m not buying another thing’ but I keep getting tempted here and there. Every morning when I’m down at the antiques market, I comb through it. Then I go for a coffee after it, if I have anything left in my pocket!”
An Art Lover’s Guide to the French Riviera retails at €25. It is available online Artisan House (www.artisanhouse.ie) and in galleries and selected bookshops.