Buying art for your French home need not cost an arm and a leg, writes Robin Gauldie..
You don’t need a plutocrat’s purse to find a work of art that’s redolent of your chosen corner of the Hexagone, be it a big-sky Normandy seascape, a Brittany fishing harbour, a village market scene or an image of a sun-soaked Provençal lavender garden. There are prints, reproductions and original paintings and photos out there that will brighten a room at more modest prices. Original works by up-and- coming artists may even be canny investments.
Most works by the great names in French art are held by the world’s leading art museums, and so are no longer on the market at any price. When privately owned paintings do come to auction, the bidding is between museums like the Louvre looking to add to their collections, corporate buyers and ultra-high wealth individuals. They command eye-watering sums. Claude Monet‘s Meules, a sunset landscape from the painter’s ‘Haystacks’ series, sold for $110,700,000 in 2019. Even at the lower end of the scale, you’re looking at seven-figure sums: Paul Cézanne’s Maisons parmi les arbres, painted at his estate at Aix-en-Provence, last sold for a relatively paltry £1,007, 200.
ON A BUDGET
But you can afford the next best thing: a museum-grade reproduction. The online Boutique des Musées, the official picture agency of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, sells print-on-demand framed and unframed prints on canvas of works by masters including Monet, Manet and many more from the collections of the Louvre and other French temples of art. These are priced from as little as €22 for smaller, unframed prints on paper up to €270 for a framed, 99cm by 87cm reproduction on canvas of Cézanne’s ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire’ or €380 for a similarly sized reproduction of Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny’, both from the Musée d’Orsay collection.
For something less pastoral and more strikingly modern, Piet Mondrian’s bold, geometric abstracts in red, yellow or blue are a perfect match for a contemporary apartment or villa.
Jean Dubuffet’s ‘low art’ looks good too amid the concrete brutalism of Modernist urban apartments like those in Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse, while Matisse’s blue ‘cut-outs’ patented deep blue pigment dress up a sunny living room beautifully. After ogling the originals at Musée Matisse in Nice, you can buy a reproduction of his best-known work ‘Nu Bleu’ in the museum shop for €128.
Perched above the Riviera coast, the stunning location of St-Paul-de-Vence is a one- stop shop for reproductions of work by big-name artists and a showcase for up-and- coming talents, with more than 20 commercial galleries all in one pretty village. Its stunning location attracted a bevy of 20th-century artists including Picasso, Georges Braque, Matisse and, above all, Marc Chagall, who lived and worked here from 1966 until his death in 1985. He’s buried in the village cemetery, where his grave is a place of pilgrimage for art-lovers.
The Fondation Maeght, just above the village, is an eye- opening fantasia of modern art, and its online shop offers a vast array of posters and original etchings and lithographs by artists such as Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Joan Miro, with prices starting as low as €40 for a reproduction of Chagall’s ‘La Vie’ or Pierre Bonnard’s sunny landscape, also called ‘La Vie’.
Matisse and other painters including André Derain were drawn too to Collioure, on the Roussillon coast, where, inspired by the sun-soaked hills and harbour villages of the Cote Vermeille, Matisse and Derain developed the explosively vivid style that earned them the not entirely complimentary soubriquet ‘les fauves’ (the savages). Visit the Maison du Fauvisme in the village to find out more and buy reproductions of their work.
With a bigger budget, and as an investment, Samuel Peploe’s paintings of Cassis in Provence, Royan in Charente, Antibes and Brittany display the Scottish painter’s debt to Cézanne but are considerably more affordable.
Peploe’s most sought- after still life ensembles of chinoiserie, tulips and roses sell at auction for more than £500,000, but his landscapes fetch prices as low as £25,000. Small drawings like his Traiteur, Cassis, though, can be picked up for as little as £5,000 and could be an appreciating asset as well as gracing any room.
“Prices for Peploe’s landscapes are well behind his still lives, so perhaps the landscapes might prove the best investment,” suggests Guy Peploe, the painter’s grandson and owner of the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, Peploe’s home town.
What if you want an original work of art that won’t break the bank?
“The art market often seems to be a private sector that is reserved for a handful of privileged people. But this isn’t true,” says Stéphanie Tosi, founder of Paris-based Carré d’Artistes. It claims to be ‘the first accessible art gallery in France’, specialising in bringing new talents to the world’s attention, as well as showing work by established artists.
“Don’t be afraid of lacking experience or missing out on the next trendy painter,” she says. “Listen to your intuition, the one that really makes you want to hang this work in your living room and see it every day. Think about the colours and materials which make up your daily decor: a work with bright colours won’t necessarily be in keeping with a pastel interior.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t make a bold statement. “A beautiful yellow painting will go perfectly with a blue couch and it will inspire audacity,” she advises.
The gallery’s innovative guiding concept is to show smaller works in a square format at fixed prices based on the size of the work. “The idea is to establish complete transparency between our clients and artists and this way avoid the obscene prices of the art market,” Stéphanie says. “I love small formats that bring pleasure and simplicity from the first glance, but I also love large formats that impose a presence and trigger emotions.”
AUCTIONS AND ART FAIRS
For those who dare to bid at auction, Paris’s venerable Hotel des Ventes Drouot, founded in 1852, claims to be the largest auction house in the world, with 15 auction rooms serving more than 60 independent auction firms. Check online for upcoming auctions and price estimates and sign up for in- person or online bidding.
Guide prices vary hugely, but the work of less well-known contemporary artists can be as low as €200-€300. Drouot’s website is a useful one-stop shop for news of upcoming art and antique auctions all over France, and lists almost 30 independent commercial art galleries.
If the thought of bidding against serious (and well- heeled) collectors seems a bit offputting, the ARTShopping fairs held twice yearly at the Carrousel du Louvre beneath the Louvre on Rue Rivoli and annually in Deauville, La Baule and Biarritz, may be less intimidating. You’ll find contemporary work from around 1,700 artists and galleries, with buyers spending an average €2,800.
These events offer “uninhibited and easy access to contemporary art with authentic and original works of art at affordable prices,” says ARTShopping’s founder and director, Myriam Annonay-Castanet. “Our aim is to allow meetings with artists in a friendly way, offer affordable prices and make culture and art accessible to a wide audience.”
Elsewhere in Paris, Marché de la Création in Montparnasse is a great place to browse for limited edition prints and affordable one-off originals direct from the artists who set out their stalls here.
Images snapped by renowned photographers can make a statement every bit as powerful as a painting. Magnum Photos, the world’s most renowned photographers’ collective, celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, following the opening of a new gallery space on Rue Léon Frot, in Paris’s 11th arrondissement.
It houses a vast archive of photography by hundreds of some of the world’s most accomplished lens legends, among them Henri Cartier- Bresson – the godfather of modern French photography – and Robert Capa, both of whom were at the birth of Magnum.
Capa’s gripping images of the D-Day landings may be a bit grim for a living-room wall, but there are thousands of cheerier, charming images to choose from and buy from Magnum’s online store as posters (the most affordable option), signed prints or ‘estate stamped’ editions.
Elliott Erwitt’s ‘Provence, France, 1955’ depicting a small boy perched on the pannier of his grandpa’s bicycle, two long baguettes strapped behind him, as they cycle along a tree-lined country road that seems to stretch to infinity is immediately recognisable and costs just £60 as a standard poster. By contrast, Erwitt’s ‘Paris, France. 1969’ will set you back £5,300.
Estate stamped editions of Robert Capa’s ‘Pablo Picasso with his wife and nephew’, taken at Golfe-Juan in 1948, or ‘Jetty’ taken in Biarritz in 1951, costs £150.
Magnum continually recruits up-and-coming photographers from France and all over the world, so if you have an eye for talent you might discover the next Capa or Cartier-Bresson in its catalogue.
Summing up, there’s no need to settle for run-of-the- mill stuff when looking for something to adorn your home in France. Even on a small budget, there is a huge assortment of original work and fine reproductions to choose from.
Interested in reading more real life stories?
French Property News magazine is a must-buy publication for anyone serious about purchasing and owning real estate in France, which offers a unique combination of legal, financial, and tax advice along with in-depth location guides, moving real life stories, the best properties currently on the market, entertaining regular pages, and the most recent property news and market reports.
Lead photo credit : © shutterstock