Yoyo Maeght and the Maeght saga
Interview by Isabelle Dert Bono - Le Cahier du Tourisme en Provence
“I only undertake what I can achieve. »
This is a motto that Françoise Maeght, baptized Yoyo by Jacques Prévert, shares with her grandfather, Aimé Maeght. A grandfather whose story she retraces in a moving book, full of anecdotes, artists and family dramas. La Saga Maeght is a book on a unique artistic epic. And it is far from being a long calm river. This family, which illuminated the world of modern art and left a considerable legacy, forged an atypical woman. Always barefoot, curious about everyone and everything, pampered by her grandparents, the little Yoyo has for godfathers Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jacques Prévert, Jean Bazaine, Yves Montand, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Braque , André Malraux, or even Aragon… Like a wild flower among the rosebushes, she grew up with the artists and discovered the world through the vision of these rare men who invented the era. Today she pays homage to them through her childhood memories.
Exclusive meeting with Yoyo Maeght
It all starts with Aimé and Marguerite Maeght, a loving couple and partner, he the intuitive, audacious and visionary optimist, she the enthusiastic pessimist with realistic logic and undeniable outspokenness, a subtle alchemy that has enabled them to build a empire devoted to art. Their history prints the 20th century. Yoyo Maeght: “It was for my grandmother that Grandpa embarked all his life on ambitious projects. He never makes a decision without her… He expresses all his imagination in his projects. She asks practical questions, raises objections one by one. Obliged to answer them, Grandpa becomes aware of the difficulties of realization before confronting them, and anticipates the solutions. It is in this dialogue that will have lasted 50 years that they will find together the means to carry out the craziest projects. »
Collector, gallery owner and publisher of art, books and magazines, lithographer and visionary precursor, Aimé Maeght is the creator of one of the first contemporary art foundations in Europe, a masterpiece placed on the heights of Saint Paul de Vence where Provençal nature serves as a showcase for artistic genius. Born in 1906 to a railway engineer father in Hazebrouck near Lille, he saw his childhood shattered by the war. Having become a pupil of the Nation, the siblings are placed with their mother in a silkworm farm in the south of France. “We can do anything with our trials. He made them springboards to happiness. As a teenager he dreamed of being an artist and joined the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts where chromolithography would become his specialty, teaching him the values of painting. Graduated at 19, he is passionate about art, cinema, surrealist poetry, photography and jazz. It is in Cannes that fate will knock on his door. There he began his career as a chromist in printing before opening his own engraving workshop. There he will meet his great love, Marguerite Devaye, who, at the age of 17, with a slap will return his heart and with a laugh will become his partner for life. “Grandpa has no doubts about the fate that awaits him, only the path to realizing his dreams still remains mysterious. He quickly gained a solid reputation as a lithographer in the artistic world, helped in this by Pierre Bonnard, who had become his friend. “In my grandfather, Bonnard finds a son he never had; in this great unfortunate painter, Aimé finds a father he has lost. The painter will introduce him to Matisse and many other artists. A new war will mobilize him, leaving Marguerite to take the reins. Winning the sale of the works of the painter Pastour, she will transform their small TSF radio shop attached to the studio into an art gallery. On his return, while he wishes to remain a printer, the success of the gallery gives a new direction to their life. In the midst of the chaos, the end of the war generates a period of all possibilities that Aimé and Marguerite will embrace head on. On December 6, 1945, the Maeght gallery was inaugurated in Paris, creating the event with a major Matisse exhibition. The legend is on. Here will be boldly written a part of the history of contemporary art and surrealist poetry. Each exhibition is a work of art combining painting, sculpture and writing. Signed with large pens, the opening booklets are collections of original texts of contemporary thought.
“We can do anything with our trials. My grandfather made them springboards to happiness. »
The Maeght Foundation, Saint Paul de Vence
In 1953, a tragedy upset everything. The death of Marguerite and Aimé's youngest son, Bernard. Seeing them deeply unhappy without ever expressing it, their friends feel helpless. So, Georges Braque encourages them to create something immortal and Joan Miró invites them to cross the Atlantic to visit other figures of art. He urges them to draw inspiration from the foundations of great American families to undertake an even greater adventure. The desire for a place dedicated to creation will be born, a site where nature rubs shoulders with art and where genius expresses itself freely. Designed by the architect Joseph Iluis Sert, the Maeght Foundation stands on the hill of La Gardette acquired a few years earlier. Inaugurated in 1964, this place encouraging minds to surpass themselves is built without a single tree being touched, putting nature at the service of intelligence and creation. This crazy and totally atypical project blossoms under the sun of Provence, financed with their own funds, with the providential help of their artists who mobilize and offer their time and their works.
Then Secretary of State for Culture, André Malraux receives the keys from the hands of the three little girls, Yoyo and her sisters, during a magical evening carried by the voices of Yves Montand and Ella Fitzgerald. With more than 10,000 works, this museum has one of the largest collections of 20th century art in Europe. Leading artists make up the backdrop with the largest canvas by Chagall, 62 sculptures by Giacometti and 150 by Miró, Braque, Calder, Kandinsky, Bonnard… And it welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Saint Paul is also vacation time, the time when little girls run around in the scrubland, bathe in the creeks, and hurtle down the village streets with a slew of kids roaming free. Here too artists abound and spirits are bubbling. Always a question about the language, Joan Miró will say of Yoyo: “It's a shame for me Catalan, it is attached to my coattails! Here too the evenings are prestigious, the exhibitions sumptuous and the children at the heart of this eclectic gathering. With her sisters Isabelle and Florence, Yoyo is in the front row, receives alongside her grandparents, and familiarizes herself with the artists who challenge the era.
“The strength of a work comes from its spiritual dimension. »
Very religious, Marguerite devotes a passion to little Sainte Roseline, whom she visits during her many pilgrimages in the Var. Legend has it that the daughter of the local chatelain, the young Roseline, distributed bread to the poor in secret from her father. Caught in the act, he enjoins her to show what she hides in her apron. Miracle, rose petals fall in place of the bread. Died in 1263, her body unearthed in 1329 is unaltered and preserved. Better, it gives off a smell of rose. Disappeared 280 years before being found, her body will be placed in this chapel of Les Arcs sur Argens, in the middle of the vineyards. While she begs the Saint to grant her wish to finally have a grandson, Marguerite promises, if it comes true, to have electricity installed in the chapel where the priest has few means. Generous, she will begin the work long before the birth of the child expected by Paule and Adrien, Yoyo's parents, and will even go well beyond that. In addition to light, she will bring art there, bringing with her her friends Ubac and Bazaine who will make the stained glass windows, Balenciaga who will create the dress of the Saint whose mummy devoured by mold has been sent to eminent specialists at the Louvre to be saved. Diégo Giacometti will sculpt a lectern and the doors of the reliquary, Chagall will create one of his most beautiful monumental mosaics: the Luncheon of the Angels. And Yoyo had a little brother whom his parents named Jules.
“You have to laugh for those who are no longer there. »
The time of tears
“Grandma died suddenly on July 31, 1977 at only sixty-seven years old, leaving Grandpa inconsolable. Aimé will join her in the small cemetery of Saint Paul de Vence on September 5, 1981, a real trauma for Yoyo who is just 22 years old. Then will come the time of succession, family tears and lawsuits. While their son Adrien was already estranged for a long time with his parents, it is the turn of Yoyo's siblings to tear themselves apart.
Yoyo Maeght - Work at the service of audacity
Are your parents the major absentees from these events?
“A dispute, the cause of which we never knew, took them away from Grandpa without us suffering the consequences. Absent, they are also absent in our education. We grew up with an inconceivable freedom for the time. I learned more at the school of life than on a school bench. »
Besides the Gallery, your Grandfather was also a publisher at heart?
" Yes. He has published many books and art magazines, notably the famous magazine Derrière le Miroir, devoted to his artists. Because they are his artists, their links are very strong, they accompany each other and grow together. Avant-garde, he bought their entire production and contracts were signed with a handshake. »
You are a true self-taught artist, how do you work?
“Like my grandfather, I choose the artist with whom to grow, in complete complicity and confidence. These are not works that I exhibit but artists that I defend, putting my capacity for work and creation at their service. »
And like him, your projects are real events?
“The one imagined for Aki kuroda at the Paris aquarium took me five months of work for a single evening of 600 guests without a work to sell. It's totally out of scope. It tells a lot more about the artist's fantasy than any book. My gallery is dematerialized. When you don't have places, you have to use other people's places, unusual places for demanding artists. »
What did you learn from your childhood among these atypical adults?
“To question the defined patterns and to think with additional open-mindedness. Precious mechanisms that I use every day in the service of my artists. Maeght's name is a great tool that opens doors. Once opened, it's up to me to prove myself! I have to live up to that name. »