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Villa Noailles: Early Modernist Architecture in the South of France

Modernism is synonymous with clean geometric lines and deceptively simple structures that breathe a novel air of symmetry, more radical, pure and practical than the classicist ideals of harmony.

Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum

There’s no better backdrop to offset this architectural style than a clear blue sky and rolling greenery – something that Charles de Noailles and his wife Marie-Laure knew back in 1923, long before their quietly legendary art gallery home, Villa Noailles, came to be.

Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum
Villa Noailles Vue de l’escalier de la piscine, 1928 Photographe Thérèse Bonney Collection privée, Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum piscine, villa Noailles Joel Tettamanti, Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum

The French couple, who socialized with and commissioned friends like Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, asked the Parisian architect Robert Mallet-Stevens to design and build a summer home in the hills above Hyères, a city in the east of the South of France.

Perched high up and slightly obscured from view from below, the house appears like a contemporary fort, its robust cubist structure in reinforced concrete seems both impenetrable and playful. From the inside, the many windows and ceiling-size skylights let in the plentiful Mediterranean sunshine. The swimming pool, retracting bay windows and mirrored windows complete the heliotropic nature of the cultured couple’s summer getaway.

Max Lamb, Exercises in Seating, Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum

The Villa Noailles, as it’s called today, was the Noailles’ summer home till 1940, when the Italian Army seized it to use as a hospital. It changed hands from Marie-Laure to the city of Hyères in 1973, and today, it’s a centre for the arts.

Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum
India Mahdavi, Bleus Méditerranée. Photo : Lothaire Hucki, villa Noailles, 2016

Most famously, Villa Noailles hosts the International Festival for Fashion and Photography, where talents like Viktor & Rolf, Anthony Vaccarello and Sébastien Meunier took their first steps towards commercial success.

This year marks the festival’s 32nd edition, a long-term ode to the patrons’ and the architects’ ideals. Charles and Marie-Laure decorated the house with art from Brancusi, Giacometti and Mondrian, amongst others, and Mallet-Stevens was profoundly interested in the many ways forms of art relate to each other and interact.

Over the course of his career he formed a wide network of artisans – sculptors, interior designers, lighting specialists and iron smiths – whom he tapped to collaborate on his building projects, so it’s apt for the Villa Noailles to become a hothouse for talent and a place where creative network in a most aesthetic fashion.

Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum
Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum

Mallet-Stevens ordered that his archives be destroyed upon his death, and very respectfully to his wishes, they were. This means that if you want to see an example of his masterful work, you need to do so in person – not through sketches or renderings.

So should you be staying in classic South of France mooring spot, the ever so glamorous Côte d'Azur, and our luxury La Réserve Ramatuelle Hotel and Spa, or along the coast at the French Riviera chic of the La Réserve Ramatuelle Villas, then you should know that both are just a little over an hour. Take a leisurely drive up the winding road to the Villa Noailles and visit the charming village of Hyères on the way. Pair the gallery’s striking modernism, inside art, historic import and South of France sunshine and well, it simply won’t disappoint.

Villa Noailles, South of France, architecture, France, modernism, modernist, art, festival, gallery, museum

Should sun-kissed spots of secluded beauty and striking architecture be your thing, then have a look at out Unwaxed Lemons Edit – stunningly cool Mediterranean hotels worthy of your coolest summer shades.

 

Images © Olivier Amsellem, Joel Tettamanti, René Habermacher, Lothaire Hucki, Jean-Pierre Blanc, Erwan Frotin & La Reserve Ramatuelle
 

 

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