o c t o b e r  14,  2012 

I guess everyone now and again comes up against a situation when the outcome is not what you expect. What is more, inordinate expectations nearly always negatively affect the perception and impressions of an event, meeting, journey, etc. I’ve long become convinced that the less you expect the greater probability of positive emotions.

On our recent trip to France my wife and I visited the beautiful town of Tournon-sur-Rhône, which has an extraordinarily positive charge. We found little of interest for us at the small local museum housed in a 15th-century castle, apart from picturesque views from the upper terrace, but then, mind you, we didn’t expect much. It transpired later on that after all that museum visit did prove important to us. We picked there a flyer at the tourist information stall.

The flyer advertized the André Lhote exhibition in Mirmande to mark 50 years of the artist’s death. An ordinary affair in France, where they love and revere their cultural figures, even those who weren’t French by birth, but shared the local spirit. We found the venue a bit strange, yet decided to visit the exhibition, after locating the place with some difficulty in the French atlas. At that time we knew next to nothing about André Lhote’s biography, Mirmande and how they were related. All the more impressed we were by what we saw there.

We spotted homemade yellow plates with the inscription “André Lhote exhibition in Mirmande” pasted on road signs eight kilometers or so before our destination. Clearly, the artist was loved here, and his fans and whoever just interested in his art were welcome and respected. The stone village of exceptional beauty is located on a mountain surrounded by vineyards and crowned by a 13th-century church.

 

 

фото 1 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 2 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 3 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 4 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

 

We were pleasantly surprised to find the parking lot unusually spacious for France, to hear a host of children laughing and to see them running around: it was a school break. We didn’t expect to see so many children in a small village deep in the heart of France. Despite its old age, the village was quite alive, brimming with energy and rhythm. Everything around us radiated light, love and warmth. We were in the zone of happiness.

 

фото 5 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 6 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 7 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 9 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 10 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 11 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

 

The familiar yellow plates led us on from the parking lot higher up the mountain. It turned out that the exhibition was in the church at the mountaintop. As we continued climbing, I kept wondering how they had brought the paintings there: it took us some effort to haul ourselves up there. Panting, we were welcomed with a glass of water, and when we said that we had come from Moscow, the two attendants exchanged satisfactory glances – we were the 8445th and 8446th visitors to the exhibition. There were a dozen of visitors in the halls apart from us.

The exhibition was mounted in a small but well-lit and spacious church. The well thought-out and arranged exposition, including a video film and a lot of archival documents and photographs in showcases, gave a good idea of the artist’s work. Most of the exhibits were from private collections, however, some had been lent by museums. We could have hardly expected to see that. A large catalogue and other printed matter had been published for the exhibition. It was organized with the active support of Mirmande’s mayor, who had managed to attract numerous sponsors to finance the undertaking. Can you imagine a Russian village warden (I don’t even know how people like that are called nowadays back home) somewhere 100 miles away from Moscow asking businessmen for funds to hold an art exhibition in his village? Sounds ridiculous and sad.

 

фото 16 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 17 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 18 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 19 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 20 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

 

André Lhote (1885-1962), known not only as an artist and sculptor, but also as an art critic and theorist, made a large contribution to the understanding of Cubism at the heyday of this art movement. He served as an art critic for Nouvelle Revue Française from 1918, and subsequently wrote several books on the theory of art and engaged in teaching. Mirmande owed its fame precisely to his latter activity.

 

foto Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

 

André Lhote opened his first académie (drawing studio) on the Montparnasse in 1922. Immediately there formed a fairly large circle of his disciples, one of them the famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The students did not want académie classes to stop for summer, and naturally the question of summer studies arose. Provence and Côte d’Azur were invariably popular with artists at that time, and in 1925 Lhote drove a car southwards to find a suitable place. There is no historical record about his route, but miraculously he drove through the small towns and villages of the Rhone valley. Mirmande could not but charm the artist, even though the village was on the verge of ruin at the time – there are several dozen names on the plaque commemorating those who perished in the First World War. When Lhote asked which house was on sale, the answer was all of them. Lhote chose the largest house, paid for it three thousand francs and kept it for 37 years until his death.

For about fifteen years (until the declaration of war in 1939) his académie students annually came to Mirmande for summer studies. Up to forty artists with their families came to the village, renting houses or staying at hotels, and caused turmoil with their way of life and Parisian fashion – shorts and swimming suits. On the one hand, the measured village life was upset, and on the other, the villagers had been waiting for the artists to come and preparing lodgings and provisions long in advance, which meant a new lease on life.

 

фото 21 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 22 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

фото 23 Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

 

After Lhote died in 1962, the local mayor’s office purchased his house. Today it is run by the Best Western hotel chain. In addition to the hotel and its restaurant, the village has another small restaurant and a tourist office. As distinct from other medieval villages frequented by tourists and referred to as “showcase villages”, Mirmande produces the impression of unassuming bohemianism and is pervaded by vibrant energy and some special atmosphere of creativity.

 

1 web Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

The Judgement of Paris. 1912

2 web Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

Élonge à la géométrie. 1917

3 web Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

Portrait de Marguerite. 1912

4 web Аndré Lhote at Mirmande

Dead Tree with Mirmande in the Background. 1930

 

 

 

Sources:

Exhibition catalogue André LHOTE à Mirmande en Drôme. Édition Mairie de Mirmande, 2012.

http://www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org/fr/mirmande-0

http://www.officetourismemirmande.fr/indexmirmande.html