Category Archives: Art
On a UK Monopoly Board, Piccadilly is the sixth most expensive property at a whopping £280.00 and bears the colour yellow. To build a Monopoly hotel on the site will set you back £1,200.00. In reality, Piccadilly is a busy, multi-lane thoroughfare in London’s West End, running from Hyde Park Corner past Green Park to Piccadilly Circus. It’s home to the Hard Rock Café, The Ritz and the Royal Academy. Piccadilly is where Russian spy, Alexander Litvenenko visited a branch of Itsu just after he was poisoned by polonium, a deadly radioactive substance, in a modern-day Cold War power struggle. It’s where to browse through book stacks at the amply-stocked bookstores of Hatchard’s and Waterstone’s, ogle gourmet delights at Fortnum and Mason and Caviar House or refuel at The Wolseley, where weekend brunch tables are a hot ticket. With such esteemed neighbours, both historic and present, it’s no surprise that Piccadilly is where the French hotel chain, Le Méridien, decided to install their landmark London hotel – a stone’s throw from Eros and the Circus’s famed flashing signs. It has now resided at the Regency property of number 21 Piccadilly for a sound twenty-six years, since 1986, in a purpose-built building that first housed The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908 and Masonic temples in its basement.
I’m ashamed to admit that Le Méridien on Piccadilly is a place I must have passed thousands of times yet never once entered and I cannot fathom why. This has recently been rectified; not only have I now entered Le Méridien Piccadilly, I’ve also luxuriated in its underground swimming pool and snored soundly in one of its gigantic beds, oblivious to the busy West End traffic artery located mere feet from my head.
My recent stay at Le Méridien has also educated me in their all-pervading approach to art. The arrival art is what a guest encounters first. As part of Le Méridien’s re-branding at the hand of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group since they took ownership of the chain in 2005, art has been incorporated into all areas of the guest experience, starting the moment you walk through the door. Before I’d even reached the check-in desk I’d already noted a display of limited edition umbrellas by designer Duro Olowu, with snazzy geometric prints that any connoisseur would be happy to shelter beneath in a London rainstorm.
Even the lowly key card has been welcomed into the LM artistic experience. My card, a work of art in its own right, sported part of a Yan Lei Colour Wheel, its design being part of the LM Unlock Art incentive: not only does the key card open your door it forms part of a collection by a contemporary artist. The current featured artist at LM Piccadilly is Langfang-born Yan Lei, a member of the LM100, the collective comprising 100 influencers who contribute to the LM experience, through their expertise across a wide selection of the arts, from art and design to cuisine and perfumery. Some of the previous Unlock Art card collections, by fellow LM100 members, Hisham Bharoocha and Sam Samore, hang in frames by the lifts, but form and function are only two facets to the LM key cards; they also provide free access to Tate Britain and Tate Modern exhibitions – all you have to do is tell the concierge which Tate exhibitions you’d like to attend so he can arrange access for you, then just flash your key card when you get there, unlocking a local cultural experience for free.
Yan Lei’s Colour Wheel paintings hang in the Piccadilly lobby, the bespoke carpets underfoot are awash with lines, thoughtfully reflecting the inspiration for the company’s name – the meridian lines which criss-cross the globe, and in the ground floor internet den the shelves are set with contemporary ceramics, smart and stark against a dark background. There’s a video installation, created especially for Le Méridien, playing on a loop behind the Guest Relations desk and, on your way to the Longitude Bar, you’ll pass an elegant series of black and white portraits of the people responsible for the overall artistic experience that a guest will enjoy at Le Méridien – the LM100. As for that subtle aroma wafting through the lobby? That’s the signature Le Méridien scented candle, LM01, created by more members of the LM100 clan, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi. It’s a unique blend of frankincense, iris absolute and musk with cedar notes, gently adding to the sensory welcome so carefully constructed with a guest’s first impressions in mind.
The final and possibly most important part of Le Méridien’s atmosphere is the human component. In my time at the hotel I truly appreciated the comportment of the staff. From greeting to leaving, there was always a smile, a courteous hand, nothing too much trouble. Lift doors were held open without asking, a troublesome door catch dealt with immediately by not one but three kind and patient staff, an unusual breakfast order delivered on-time, without issue, a forgotten toothbrush taken care of, taxi doors opened and closed, a myriad small kindnesses. Whomever I spoke with on the staff seemed to genuinely care that I had a positive experience of Le Méridien Piccadilly. That’s what I call the Art of Hospitality, and in the travel environment it’s absolutely priceless.
A luxury hotel, lashings of fine dining and a whirlwind of contemporary art? Chez Epicurienne, that’s what I call a killer combination that I’d be happy to dive into on any day of the week. Courtesy of the Le Méridien hotel group, I was recently invited to partake of just such a tantalising synthesis of sensory stimulants during an arts-focussed stay-cation, based at their landmark hotel in London’s Piccadilly. I’m still recovering, in a good way.
A top hotel’s relationship to food is a no-brainer; the two go hand-in-hand, but where does art enter the equation? In this case, Le Méridien, the forty-year old international hotel chain, has incorporated art into its properties so that wherever guests look, art will meet their eyes – be it on arrival, on relaxing, even on using their key card. Steering Le Méridien’s artistic intentions is Jérôme Sans, the French art curator and critic, in his capacity as the LM Cultural Curator. What’s more, for the past five years Le Méridien has been a principle partner and supporter of an arts initiative called OFT – the Outset/ Frieze Art Fair Fund to Benefit the Tate Collection. Through OFT, the Tate is able to bypass purchasing bureaucracy to acquire work by emerging artists featured at the annual London fair for contemporary art: Frieze.
Over two days, our small group of bloggers along with various members of hotel management and Le Meridien’s PR company, Fleishman Hillard, managed to experience one art discussion panel, several types of unforgettable hors d’oeuvre, one unusual afternoon tea, six delicious meals, one international art fair, three world-famous art galleries, exhibitions various, two nights of sumptuous sleep, meetings with key art experts and personalities, a lesson in Le Méridien’s history and brand and various forms of London transport – including the water kind. For obvious reasons, I will not attempt to squeeze everything listed above into one post, lest it resemble a hefty artistic monograph. Instead, I invite you to join me on a multi-post tour of Le Méridien’s London art-u-cation. It’ll be an inspiration – for locals and visitors alike.
Photo above courtesy of the Le Meridien website, http://www.lemeridienpiccadilly.co.uk
Marseille: an ancient city renowned for many things, among which number its huge commercial port, a small crime problem, the legendary Château d’If and fine bouillabaisse. The city lent its name to the French national anthem, la Marseillaise, pastis was born here and Marcel Pagnol took childhood walks in the lush Parc Borély. I suggest that we add to this hall of fame the Hotel Pullman Marseille Palm Beach, where Monsieur and I splurged for a night of luxury during our South of France ‘vacances’ last year.
Even for we two inveterate travellers, it had been a long day. We’d driven up from the Camargues, lunched at a sleepy Martigues and screeched into the last boat trip of the day around the calanques near the pretty port of Cassis. The driving in the vicinity of such a natural wonder is reputed to be fraught with tempers frayed by battles fought over parking spaces; sadly, we’d found it to be exactly so, yet somehow managed to escape without a single dent in our fender. Leaving the beauty behind as we entered the messy sprawl of the outskirts of Marseille, we were intent on a night of calm and relaxation. Fortunately, once we found the Pullman Hotel, calm and relaxation is exactly what we enjoyed.
I say ‘once we found’ because the Pullman is James Bond-esque in the way that it hides behind a curve in the Corniche, sinking its storeys below the coastal thoroughfare so that it’s barely visible from the road. We, as many others must have done before us, drove straight on past the entrance before recognising our mistake and navigating a U turn – no mean feat in the early evening rush of traffic – to return to our abode for the night.
A porter swiftly separated luggage from vehicle as a valet disappeared with the car down a ramp into what could have been Hades for all we knew – via the entrance to what we deduced must be the subterranean car park - very 007 once again. Inside, a vast lobby was populated by three or four staff and one of those life-size sculptures of a cow wearing far splashier colours than might be expected in your average milking shed. Elsewhere, the furniture was über chic in the fashion of a deconstructed Mondrian (read: hard-cornered squares and rectangles in primary colours) but quite uncomfortable looking – the subliminal message being that this was not a place to get cosy, although the view across the bay was spectacular and it would be quite possible to spend a couple of hours sitting here watching ships and yachts navigating the busy bay.
Fortunately, our room had its own, private view out to sea, and a balcony from which to enjoy it at our leisure. It was a hot evening, hazy and vaguely rose-tinted. We watched stand-up paddlers taking advantage of the calm waters.
Looking to our right the Corniche snaked against the coast, a gigantic propeller blade rising in dark silhouette against the sunset; this was the 1971 oeuvre of Marseille’s sculptor son, César, honouring the repatriation of people from North Africa to France.
To wash off the day’s accumulation of salt and sweat, we took a dip in the Pullman’s pool, which looked like this:
It was big enough to accommodate pre-dinner swimmers of all ages, from pre-schooler to retiree, and the water was just the right type of cool.
Later, as Monsieur and I basked in the last of the day’s sun, we flicked through guides in an attempt to decide how and where to dine. In the end, room service won. We would sup in our bathrobes, with the unsurpassable vista visible from our balcony, gathering strength for the serious task of exploring Marseille the next day.
The doorbell rang and our evening meal arrived. Seconds later, Monsieur settled down with comfort food: a burger and plump, golden fries with a verrine of coleslaw in a nod to the possibility of fresh produce, even if it hadn’t been ordered in quantity tonight.
I stuck to lighter fare. The smoked salmon was delicious, served with mini-blinis, a dollop of taramasalata and another of soft, herbed cheese. The salad leaves were unusually unblemished, natural, sans vinaigrette.
Then I allowed myself a small plate of cheese.
A glass of crisp, chilled white wine completed the experience.
And so, when last in Marseille, Monsieur and I unabashedly enjoyed our room service supper in our own time, watching all manner of seafaring vessel criss-crossing the bay as the sun sank in the west. It was the epitome of a holiday dining experience: good, simple food, great view, the privacy of our own room and no glad rags required. Not to mention the double bill of Engrenages (Spiral) on TV. A perfect evening, indeed.
Even as a child, I didn’t have much patience for sand castles. ‘What’s the point?’ I wondered, ‘in spending painstaking hours building crenellations, filling moats and adorning walls with shells, when all the effort would only be destroyed by (a) someone’s careless foot, (b) a galumphing dog off its lead or (c) the incoming tide?’ I was far happier torturing hermit crabs or sea anemones in rock pools.
Even so, there are some talented folk out there who both possess the patience for sculpting sand and artistic skill. Two such folk create masterpieces of sand far from any beach in Giverny, the village where pilgrims paying homage to the late, great Claude Monet flock in their hundreds of thousands each year. They are Chris Avril and Jean-Pierre Porchez, whose compositions exhibit talent, perseverance and poise. To stumble upon their sculptures is a pleasant surprise in a place like Giverny, where there are altogether too many mediocre art works hanging in galleries designed to lure the tourist.
Here are the artistes:
And this is their new take on The Last Supper:
A close up of Christ and friends:
I think the bulbous items on the ‘table’ may be a carafe of wine and a bread roll, but can’t be certain. In any case, it’s hardly enough to sustain a group of thirteen.
Across the way we spot some more bearded chaps – this time, artistic heroes.
This man with palette in hand is Renoir.
And this is Monsieur Monet, the reason we were all in Giverny that late September day. To the left is Gustave Caillebotte, a great friend and contemporary of Monet, and to the right is the poor, tortured Vincent Van Gogh.
From left to right we have Renoir, Pissaro, Berthe Morisot ( a female impressionist cleverly breaking up all that maleness exuding from the sand), Sisley and Caillebotte again.
The exhibition of sand sculptures was free to view and no one seemed to be guarding the fragile creations, yet thankfully there were no galumphing dogs in sight, and all who stepped in to visit left their careless feet at the gate. In fact, when Monsieur and I were there, all were speechless with awe at the hours of painstaking work on display. The question that nobody dared ask, however, was ‘what’ll happen when it rains?’ and this is Normandy, so rain it will. My guess is that Chris and Jean-Pierre will wait for the storm to pass before quietly fetching their buckets and spades and starting from scratch. Admirable, really, to be that patient, not to mention ingenious to create a gallery of sand in a painter’s village.
Think of some of the world’s record-breaking works of art at point of sale, and paintings from Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series will no doubt feature on the list. Ever since I first saw a Monet in the flesh in the eighties, during a touring exhibition that actually made it the extra xxxx miles to far-flung New Zealand (a rarity at the time), I have always dreamed of visiting Monet’s home at Giverny, to see the artist’s famed gardens for myself. In October just past, that dream came true. I had to pinch myself repeatedly, it was such a thrill to finally be in such an art-lover’s mecca.
Monsieur and I arrived in the small village of Giverny on a dull autumn day, amidst a steady Norman drizzle. I’d always thought that May would be the optimum time to see Monet’s gardens, as they’d be in the prime of spring blossom and bloom, but apparently the little village is overrun with international fans of Impressionism in springtime, so by coming later in the year, we’d wisely sidestepped the push and shove of tourist hordes. Would the effort be worth it? Would we see any flowers? Or would we curse our autumn plans and wish we’d come in spring or summer, with the world, his wife and their dog?
The weather was certainly disappointing on the morning of our visit but, ever the optimists, we still hoped there might be some sort of floral leftovers from the finer seasons just past.
Here’s a sample of what Monsieur and I found in Monet’s garden at Giverny. Our hopes were rewarded with late-bloomers in every direction.
I love pink flowers and these were among my favourites in Monet’s garden.
These fellows were drooping with the rainfall but still managed to remind me of a blazing sunset on a hot summer’s evening (even if I were wrapped up in coat and scarf at the time!)
The path from Monet’s house down to the end of the garden was wild with a carpet of nasturtiums – as a small girl, I used to pick nasturtiums from the school hedge suck ‘honey’ from the point beneath the bloom. Ever since, they’ve remained a favourite flower. At Giverny, their colours only seemed brightened by the grey day.
We wandered down aisles of flourishing flora and through an underground tunnel to reach Monet’s water lily ponds. So this was where the great painter created some of the greatest impressionist artworks known to man.
The artist said of his water lilies: “It took me time to understand my water lilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them”. Little did he know that through his paintings these would arguably become the most famous water lilies in the world.
It may have been gloomy when we saw them, but the ponds were still beautiful and, believe it or not, there was the occasional freshly-opened flower sitting on the lily pads.
The poor chap in red jacket waited patiently with his tripod as I photographed the ponds, but unfortunately for him, I wasn’t the only one annoying his view.
Imperceptible here are the water-lubbing insects who walk across the water on spindly wee legs. The pond life is happy and rampant.
As we left the ponds, returning to the main gardens, the sun decided to pop its head out from behind the clouds. This flower looked like a sunburst in its own right.
Sunshine on a rainy day…
The perfect lawn for picnicking.
This old wheel barrow must have worked hard in its past life, carrying plants and trees and soil and vegetables from the potager (vege garden). Now it sits in peaceful retirement.
There’s one word for flowers like this: happy. Monet said “I am following Nature without being able to grasp her… I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” With floral optimism such as this in one’s garden, it’s little wonder, although the great man started his life as an artist drawing caricatures, not a petal in sight.
This is one of the prettiest exit signs I’ve ever seen.
We were lucky with our Giverny expedition; it may have been raining when we arrived, but the sun appeared for just long enough to give us a taste of what it must be like to visit on a Halcyon day. Claude Monet once said “I am only good at two things, and those are: gardening and painting”.
This is not entirely true. He was also very good at what we were about to do next: eating.
When I was a child, we always had prints of famous paintings on various of the walls at home. It’s little wonder I grew up with a taste for things French (including a certain man), because most of these prints were of works by French painters – from Chardin to Lautrec.
One of my favourites was the depiction of a nineteenth century couple walking along a Paris street in the rain. The man holds up a large black umbrella to shield the pair against the downpour and the streets are cobbled in that tell-tale European way, evoking daydreams of times of yore. I always loved looking at a particular building in the background, which is shaped like a piece of pie, the point of which is aimed directly at the viewer. “Why would an architect make a building that shape?” I’d ask, “To fit the parcel of land, I suppose, but it’s not very practical. How on earth would you furnish the triangular rooms in the point?” No one ever had an answer for me, but it didn’t matter one jot. I loved that painting regardless of the fact that I didn’t understand the reasoning behind triangular buildings, or why the beautiful woman wears black. Had she and her husband been to a funeral? Or perhaps were they in mourning? Regardless, as an artistic device their sombre clothes match well the drizzle of the day. Yes, it was likely that they were sad about something and that gave me yet another mystery to ponder.
Gustave Caillebotte was the artist responsible for this work, named ‘Rue de Paris; temps de pluie’, or ‘Rainy Day in Paris’, the original of which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Those In The Know refer to Caillebotte as an impressionist, yet there’s a realism in his work that the Seurats and Monets lack. Caillebotte’s paintings are like snapshots of the époque in which he lived. You could almost walk into them, they’re so lifelike.
Given my interest in Caillebotte you can imagine my excitement when Monsieur’s Maman suggested lunch at the Parc Caillebotte in Yerres. Caillebotte had been born into a well-to-do Parisian family that spent many of their summers at the family property in Yerres, a small town on the Yerres River, to the south of Paris. This property has been named Parc Caillebotte for its former owners and appears in various of Caillebotte’s paintings, such as Les Oragers (The Orange Trees).
Le Casin at Parc Caillebotte
The ‘Mairie’, or Mayor’s office, for Yerres has invested much time and effort in restoring the Parc to create a leisure destination which successfully blends culture, relaxation, and natural beauty, whilst celebrating the work of its famous son. Sadly, it was a grey February day when we made our visit to the Parc, but that didn’t detract from its interest. The large, white Caillebotte family house known as ‘le Casin’ stands proud at the entrance to the Parc. It is home to two permanent exhibitions, but was closed when we visited. Outside, there are various buildings of different styles and purposes dotted around the grounds, like the funny little pagoda atop a rockery with grotto beneath. This was also closed but in the summer months it serves as a refreshments kiosk. On a day like this, there was little need for a bottle of something refreshing. The weather was fresh enough.
Down by the river, there’s a long, white orangery with outdoor seats, where a couple of local dames sat and gossiped, quite oblivious to the chill in the air. Monsieur’s Maman told us that further afield lay a chapel and vegetable garden, but we all agreed that, on this occasion, it was too cold to hang about and explore. Warm interiors beckoned.
“It’s true, I swear. Marie-Claude buys the Chinese escargots. Quelle horreur!”
At the Parc I did, however, talk to the animals again. There are hens of all descriptions and a pair of flopsy white rabbits in a large chicken coop behind the Parc’s restaurant, Chalet du Parc, so I clucked at them and they clucked back and Monsieur’s Maman must then have realised that her son is marrying a madwoman. As for Monsieur, well, he’s just used to it. His ears are now deaf to my clucking sounds.
I loved these cotton wool hens with their little blue faces. And so did the four year-old next to me!
One day, when the sun shines and the arctic air has gone, I hope we will all return to the Parc Caillebotte. There are the exhibitions to see, naturally, but on the Halcyon day that I imagine, we won’t want to linger indoors. We’ll buy cold drinks at the Pagoda kiosk, picnic on the broad lawn and then perhaps rent a couple of canoes to paddle up and down the river, just like the man in Caillebotte’s painting, ‘Les Périssoires sur l’Yerres’ (‘Oarsmen on the Yerres). To that day I do look forward, very much indeed, but first I should really tell you all about LUNCH.
Sardinia is an island of secrets and quiet beauty, the most precious delights of which are likely to be tucked away from tour bus routes. Driving into the island’s hinterland on a warm May day, Monsieur and I rounded a bend on a country highway to discover one such unexpected treasure: the painted village of Tinnura.
Tinnura’s church lies behind these painted walls,
the priest and members of his congregation immortalised for all to see.
I wondered who this chap with traditional flat cap was:
What tales would he tell us in his mountain dialect?
Are these flowers of gratitude for an answered prayer? Or perhaps this member of Tinnura’s faithful has volunteered her flower arranging skills to the parish.
Even the pedestrian crossing adds colour to this quiet little town, made all the more quiet by the heat of mid-afternoon. Apart from the rare few souls we spotted venturing beyond the shade of their shuttered interiors into the cauldron-like streets, the only population we saw in Tinnura were painted into its walls.
The painter’s brush does not limit its work to celebrating the townsfolk of Tinnura alone; their animals also feature. Here a pair of horses ready themselves for a trot out of their frame and onto the street.
On the side of a house a short walk from the main street, we see the ominous masked faces of players in an ancient Sardinian rite that some say dates back to prehistory. The matador-like man or isohadore looks all set to lasso a friend or woman in the invisible carnival crowd, taking his chosen one prisoner with a rope of plaited reeds. Meanwhile, the mamuthones in hook-nosed masks and shaggy sheepskin cloaks, are the fruit of a union between fire and moon, bearing the weight of cumbersome cow bells on their backs.
No masked beings from the underworld here, though. Life goes on in these walls, simple, daily life. These women are practising the art of basket weaving.
And this trio kneads, shapes and bakes loaves of bread to feed the Tinnurese – an apt scene for Tinnura’s Bread Street or Via del Pane.
But in Tinnura it’s not a case of all work and no play makes Giovanni a dull boy. Oh, no, the Tinnurese tap their feet to the songs of their friend, the accordion player, as one wicked reveller stumbles off with the wine.
This man plays the pipe, not just one but three at at a time.
Here we see that even the painted ladies of Tinnura have shadows.
Behind these folk busying themselves with the day’s chores, an ancient nuraghe sits on a hillside.
If you’re peckish, why not visit Tinnura’s baker? Rest assured, his loaves are never stale.
From this angle, the Wine Thief looks set to trip over the curb, spilling his liquid loot all over unlucky passers by..
This pair of monochrome images look like photos from an agricultural history book. See how they tilled the land?
With a living population of 268, Tinnura’s numbers are swelled by its painted people. Monsieur and I were only there for a fraction of an hour, yet this Sardinian surprise will stay in my visual archive for ever.