Chaumont sur Loire, a garden full of surprises

François Méchain, L’Arbre aux échelles. 2009, Parc Historique, from the book “Art et Nature” published by Flammarion ©Eric Sander

It is rare to find such a great combination of history and contemporary art as in Chaumont sur Loire, a Renaissance castle inhabited by Catherine de Médicis set in a park over the Loire and magnificently embellished by Prince and Princesse de Broglie at the turn of the century. It was given to the state in 1938 and is now energetically run by Chantal Colleu-Dumond, an inventive and very international director. It holds a festival of gardens every year from April to November 5 th. Its permanent collection features land artists as brilliant as Andy Goldsworthy, Nikolay Polissky, El Anatsui, Cornelia Konrads and Tadashi Kawamata. And this year the main exhibition is dedicated to Sam Szafran’s jungles « Arborescences » in the castle.

Sans titre, (Lilette dans les feuillages), 2012, watercolor and pastel on paper, courtesy Galerie Claude Bernard

Sam Szafran is mostly known for his staircases which turn obsessively and I have always been fascinated by them. One day in the early seventies, his galerist Claude Bernard, invited him to stay at his house of La Besnardière near Vouvray on the Loire. When Szafran discovered the tropical garden of philodendrons falling from the ceiling, which joins the living room opposite a huge organ, he started drawing and painting them just as obsessively. The exhibition at Chaumont has a double meaning : the works were originally painted locally and they reproduce nature.

“Atelier au feuillage” avec Claude Bernard, Juin 1971, pastel

Whether a pastel, an aquatinte or a large watercolor, they represent a vegetal cascade overwhelming a tiny human figure. Szafran recreated this jungle in his own Paris atelier. So works here range from the 70’s to nowadays, including a pastel of Claude Bernard in June 1971 and more recent (2012) huge ones of Lilette, his wife.

Sans tire, (feuillages), watercolor, courtesy galerie Claude Bernard

The garden festival and art exhibition at Chaumont goes on until November with works by Sara Favriau who makes constructions with wood, Sheila Hicks who mixes wool with wicker and trees, and Ursula von Rydingsvard with her cedar sculptures.

This year the gardens were planted in a symphony of purples

On another note, Davide Quayola’s digital art reminded me of Monet’s waterlilies. The work he shows here was conceived last August at Chaumont while he was in residence. El Antasui, the ghanaen artist built incredible barges which float on the Loire beyond the castle.

Art collector Micky Wolfson is sampling tofu and fleur d’artichaut and smelling perfumes at le Grand Velum

Chaumont sur Loire is a world by itself, which changes every year as the gardens are constantly improved and replaned. I discovered this time the Chinese, Japanese and Korean gardens in the new Pré du Goualoup.

The view of the Loire with “Banc sacré” by Anne et Patrick Poirier

It is a fascinating park but not only. The very warm welcome one gets from Laurent Lebey, the estate manager and lunch at Le grand Velum, where one has to smell perfumes at the same time one tastes flavors, make for a perfect full day. Chaumont is 2 hours drive from Paris, thirty minutes from Tours. (Festival Flower Power until Nov. 5)

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