A U G U S T 18,  2011

The inquisitive mind of a collector and researcher forbids ignoring details. A brief report in the French mass media on an Odilon Redon exhibition and a chance to view his panels at the Fontfroide Abbey prompted a new big theme. Plastic interrelationships in art of different times, continuity and innovation of big masters, who do not emulate but logically develop the style and traditions of certain epochs, have already been in the focus of our attention earlier. We have already seen that in stained glass pieces by twentieth-century artists – Marc Chagall, Joseph Sima and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva – in the medieval cathedrals of the capital of Champagne in Northern France, the famous Notre Dame de Reims and St. Jacob’s Church.

Panels done by Odilon Redon in 1911 on Gustave Fayet’s commission for the library of the medieval Fontfroide Cistercian abbey are testimony of another such happy alliance.

The Fontfroide Abbey (Cold Stream) was founded in 1093 in Le Corbier Mountains of the Eastern Pyrenees, Southern France. The abbey thrived in the 12th-14th centuries and played an important part in the struggle of the Catholic Church against the Cathars’ movement. After the 1348 plague the Abbey fell into decay and for five centuries it had no more than a score of monks, yet it continued to exist intermittently until an anti-clerical law was passed in 1901. The monks were banished to Spain and the buildings were abandoned. The state no longer wanted to maintain the Abbey, which had been recognized a historical landmark in 1862. In 1907 the Abbey was put up for sale. The prospective buyer was not long in coming: he was the American sculptor George Grey Barnard, who lived in France and at that time was collecting medieval buildings. He took them apart stone by stone and exported them to the US to build a museum of medieval European art in New York.

At the very last moment the old gem of Languedoc was saved: Gustave Fayet, a well-known local artist, sponsor and collector, and his wife, née Madeleine d’Andoque of an old aristocratic family, outbid Barnard and bought the Abbey.

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Gustave Fayet (1865-1925) was an artist who, although influenced by Gauguin and Redon, had his own style close to Symbolism. He admired Degas, Manet, Monet and Pissarro and purchased their paintings. In addition, he was among the key buyers of Gauguin’s works. After Gauguin died, it was Fayet who lent works from his collection to exhibitions celebrating the master, for instance, Gauguin’s retrospective shows in Weimar in 1905 and in Paris in 1906, as well as to many other exhibitions staged between 1903 and 1925.  In 1901 Fayet became a museum custodian in his native Béziers and in 1905 he moved to Paris.

 

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After he bought the Fontfroide Abbey in January 1908, Gustave Fayet undertook its restoration. Some premises were badly in want of repairs, their roofing destroyed and windows gone. Restoration efforts lasted for ten years. Fayet dreamed not only of restoring the Abbey but of giving it a new lease on life: he began to organize exhibitions of his fellow artists in the restored premises and made a musical salon there.  Many famous artists, sculptors and musicians, including the composer Maurice Ravel, visited to the Abbey. Gustave Fayet invited Odilon Redon to do the interior design and commissioned Richard Burgstahl to make stained glasses.

Gustave Fayet met Redon in Paris in 1900. He was greatly impressed by Redon’s noirs – black-and-white engravings and lithographs and charcoal drawings. He liked to see works en masse rather than separately: they complemented each other and one work was a logical extension of another.  The two artists shared common views of art and corresponded for years. After he moved to Paris in 1905, Fayet frequently visited Redon’s studio and appreciated his art of a colorist. He began to purchase Redon’s works and commissioned him to make portraits of his wife and two daughters.

For the first time Fayet invited Redon to Fontfroide in the autumn of 1908. At Easter of 1910 the two friends decided to decorate two walls of a large room intended to be a library. Redon did Day and Night, companion decorative panels 6.5 m х 2 m.

 

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Odilon Redon’s Day panel at the Fontfroide Abbey library

 

These wall paintings, the largest and among the latter works of Odilon Redon, are the few pieces left of the big collection of Gustave Fayet. After his death some of the works were sold to maintain the premises. When Madeleine Fayet died in 1971 and inheritance was distributed, the collection ceased to exist and nearly all the artworks were auctioned. The family retained five paintings by Redon, including the portraits of Madeleine, Isolde and Simone Fayet.

 

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Nicolas d’Andoque, the owner of the Fontfroide Abbey, at the library in front of the Night panel by Odilon Redon. Crédits photo: Montpellier Agglomération

 

It is, of course, inestimable that the third generation of the Fayet-d’Andoque family continues to keep this architectural landmark and work of art and is ready to open the library doors to those wishing to pay a visit. Odilon Redon’s paintings are on public view throughout the duration of his exhibition at the Fabre Museum of Montpellier till October 16, 2011. After the exhibition is closed, admittance to the Abbey will be restricted, as usual, to the refectory, the inner yard, the chapel and the rosary, unless you chance to attend an exhibition or a concert of classical music that the current master Nicolas d’Andoque sponsors now and then, following the traditions set by his grandfather.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.odilonredon.net/biographie.html

http://www.fontfroide.com/2011_annee_odilon_redon_a_fontfroide.htm

http://eclairage.blogs.midilibre.com/archive/2011/06/27/le-musee-fabre-presente-trois-pastels-inedits-d-odilon-redon.html

http://www.lefigaro.fr/culture/2011/07/26/03004-20110726ARTFIG00336-l-abbaye-de-fontfroide-devoile-son-tresor.php

http://www.midilibre.fr/2011/07/11/les-murs-de-fontfroide-testament-d-odilon-redon,353156.php