When on vacation i always try to explore the museums and gallerys (if they exist) in the citys i go to. This years big summer voyage brought me to France – from east next to the Suisse border to the „end of the world“, the Departement Finisterre in Brittany.
First stop is Strasbourg, famous for its beautifull historic centre, notably the quartier „Petit France“ with its timbered houses, some of them originating back to the sixteenth century and the famous cathedral.
Petit France, Strasbourg
But Strasbourg is not only a touristic city, it is also the domicile of the European parlament and the „Maison des Droits de l´homme“ (House for the human rights) and the European court of justice. Located in the border area between Germany and France, the city and the land around it – the Alsace – belonged to germany as well to france for several hundred years. The last Transition was after the First World War, when the Alsace was returned to France as part of the peace treaty from Versailles after being german for not even fifty years.
As an important administrative and commercial city, Strasbourg also hosts a big and interesting museum for modern and contemporary art. The main Exhibition in the moment displays the graphic work of german symbolist graveur and painter Max Klinger (1857-1920). The twohundred prints shown in the exhibition really shows the main oeuvre of the artist, including his most famous graphic circle „Paraphrases about the Finding of a Glove“ published in 1881.
Max Klinger, Paraphrase about the Finding of a Glove
The permanent exhibition on modern art is uniquely curated. Leaving beside Periods and Styles, the curation follows the sujet of the works – Landscapes, Portraits, Abstraction, even craftmanship (especially art nouveau). One of the main pieces is the „Salon de musique“, created by Wassily Kandinsky in 1931 for the „Bauhausausstellung“ in Berlin.
The collection of contemporary art reaches from very recent and regional artists of Alsace (groundfloor) to a respectable assemblance of german painters of the late 20th century, Immendorf, Baselitz and others. The impression as a whole is quite eclectic though and there was really only one big finding for me personally – the (enormous) installation „Magasin“ by the (not very famous) parisien art collective UNTEL from the seventies. This work is an absolute highlight and itself standing alone would make the visit of the museum a profitable endeavour.
Second stop was Besancon, capital of the french region Franche Comté. This beautifull city with a city centre nearly completely originating from the 16th and 17th century is really an insider tip. Although its unique location in the „boucle“ ( a sinuosity) of the Doubs with magnificent quais designed by Vauban, one of the most prominent french architects of citadels and fortifications during the reign of Louis the 14th, also known as the „roi du soleil“. Being a border city throuout the history, a gigantic citadel is placed on the hill in the back of the city, enclosed on three sides by the river Doubs. A Fortification probably unsiegable for the weapons of that time, it is know classified a world heritage site by the UNESCO and hosts several museums (museum of the Franche Comté, Museum of „Resistance“ etc.) and a Zoo.
Besides of the Citadel, Besancon hosts a very nice Theatre, a casino, a „Museum of Time“, due to the regional heritage of clockmaking, and a „Musee des Beaux Art“. There are also some roman archeological sites in the city centre, a Forum and a triumphal arc, called the „porte noir“, the last remains of the roman city and fort „Vesontio“ from which nowadays Besancon develloped. In respect to contemporary art, the city lacks an exhibition space right now, but the „Maison culturelle“ which will host a space for contemporary art is right now under construction – the opening is scheduled for 2013. Beside of that there are some private galleries in the city centre and a residence programme for artists at the citadel exists for several years, going along with two exhibitions, one in a small communal project-space at place Victor Hugo (who was actually born in Besancon) and a bigger one in the remparts of the citadel itself.
Besidee of its vivid and lively capital, the region Franche Comté is really a treasure of beauty to be explored. Due to the limited time there is only one big escapade i managed to make into the countryside: Ornans, pittoresque village on the banks of the river Loue and hometown to famous french painter Gustave Courbet. The birthhouse of the painter is now a museum dedicated to the oeuvre of this famous son of the small village.
After Besancon, there is the big travel through France, from the far east to the tippoint west of this country, the end of Brittany, Finisterre (literally „end of the world“ in latin). Surely you have to pass through Paris and change trains – in france it is like in ancient Rome: all roads lead to Paris – for this journey, that took about 9 hours by train. Leaving the Mountains behind you suddenly (well, not so sudden after all, but well) dwell at the banks of the big blue. The base in Brittany was Brest, famous military port located at the so called „Rade of Brest“, a bay and natural harbour where you can easily cache a whole Armada. But Brest is not only a military harbour, it was also the launching point of the two best known big expeditions the french empire made in the 18th century – the voyages of Bougainville and Laperouse.
Brest also hosts every four years the „Tonnerre de Brest“ (originally the word for a canon shoot from the bagno, military prison, if a prisoner escapes), a parade of old sailing ships. Luckily arriving for the end of this spectacle we managed to visit the ships (over 1000 sailing boats, military vessels and others) and to see the big parade, where all ships leave the rade of Brest during the last day of the Tonnerre.
As one can easily notice the weather was… well, lets say really Breton in the first days, afterwards we were rewarded with sunny summerweather that would even let you bath – if you are not afraid of somewhat cold water. It is the Atlantic after all.
Our small escapes brought us to many small fishervillages and Lighthouses, like the „Petit Minou“ –
and the site of St. Mathieu, where the ruins of an old abbey reach up the the tip of the rocky coastline.
For completing also the „tour de musées“ in this little „Tour de France“, a visit in Landerneau was set, where a new museum located in parts of an old monastery of the capucin order was established in June by the „Foundation for culture Edouard Leclerc“ this year. The first exhibition is dedicated to french contemporary painter Gerard Fromanger.
For an overview of the shown works please consult Le Monde (due to copyright etc.).
Situated on both sides of the small river Èlorn, the pittoresque city of Landerneau is also home to one of the last inhabited bridges in Europe – the „Pont Rohan“ (and, yes, Tolkien did steal a lot of the names for his famous Trilogy Lord of the rings from Brittany, historical and geographical).
After three weeks of a Big Escape to France one is nearly sad to be back in Berlin – with 30 degrees and clear blue skies.