There are so many reasons to visit Aix-en-Provence, from the golden light that enraptured Cezanne and the balmy weather to the sparkling fountains and cosmopolitan culture surrounded by the relaxed rusticity of Provence only a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean coastline. Now there’s a new, exquisite excuse to come back again and again.
In the hands of the Culturespaces foundation, the formerly neglected Hôtel Caumont has been fully renovated to resume its original status as a center of art and culture in the city. Bruno Monnier, President of Culturespaces, said he “wished for the Centre d’Art de l’Hôtel de Caumont to affirm itself thanks to the artistic program as well as a major cultural site for Aix-en-Provence and the south of France: a place to discover and share art, music, dance… with passion.”
The building certainly looks happier since its elegant renovation. Three centuries after it was built, this urban chateau has turned the page to a fresh exciting chapter. Now it’s one of those places that makes you want to dress smartly and adjust your own deportment to match your elegant surroundings.
In 1715, the Marquis de Cabanes commissioned the mansion in the fashionable Mazarin area with the idea that it should ‘set itself apart from all other stately homes in Aix-en-Provence’. With its high carriage gate leading to an interior courtyard (at a time when most homes in town were set directly on the street), its great staircase, the central skylight, and the formal back gardens, the building certainly made a grand impression.
Later on, through a property trade and succession, it came into the hands of the one resident who breathed life into it: Pauline de Bruny de la Tour d’Aigues, a great beauty who married the Marquis de Caumont. She had grown up in the court of Versailles, and brought with her a taste for luxury, theater and concerts.
The music room is a successful attempt to recreate Pauline de Caumont’s taste, and the atmosphere of her special soirées. Following the revolution she retired from public life and the Hôtel de Caumont gradually lost its shine, changing hands over the years, until in 1964 it was destined to be used as a national music and dance conservatory by the city.
The center is planning to offer two major exhibitions each year dedicated to the world’s greatest masters. It’s an enticing prospect, especially given the quality of the inaugural offering: a Canaletto, Rome – London – Venice retrospective, running until September 13th. The second exhibition sounds just as promising: The Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, from November 7 to March 20.
With it’s café in the central courtyard in the beautifully restored 18th century gardens, and the music wafting from the foyer, it is easy to imagine what the great home must have been like in its golden age.